Gary’s Chess Blog
International Master (IM) and
Chess Supplies owner Gary Lane
reviews the latest release books
The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era by Genna Sosonko
published by New In Chess, hardback 840 pages. September 2023 (Review#87)
There are plenty of books that can claim to be doorstoppers but this hefty tome weighing in at over 1.7 kg fits the description.
This is a tribute to the writings of the strong Russian Grandmaster who emigrated to the Netherlands in 1972. This gave him a unique perspective of the old Soviet era and the surge in the West of the popularity of chess due to the Fischer boom.
The natural rhythm to the stories makes them highly attractive which confused some studious readers as Sosonko is not famous for his good use of spoken English. However, this is where various translators come into play and one of the obvious ones is Russian speaker Sarah Hurst who is in demand for such work in the UK as crucially, she is also a decent chess player so understands the more obscure references.
If you already own the titles The Reliable Past, Smart Chip from St. Petersburg and The World Champions I Knew you know what is inside apart from further writings on Bronstein and Kasparov.
This is surely a great addition to anyone who wants to top u their chess history knowledge and you can dip in and out of fascinating anecdotes about the stars of a bygone era.
A joy for anyone who appreciates the inside story on some of the greatest chess masters in the world.
The Chess Battles of Hastings by Jurgen Brustkern & Norbert Wallet
published by New In Chess, 378 pages. Hardback is available.August 2023 (Review#86)
A celebration of the chess tournament at Hasting that has been going since the year 1895.
The German authors seem an unlikely duo to record on a British chess tournament but admittedly Jurgen has been to the event numerous times which is impressive. Of course, a world-famous tournament will have admirers from every country and while the event in recently years has lacked its star popularity it is still famous amongst players.
The obvious person to write such a book is grandmaster Stuart Conquest who actually lived in Hastings and went on to play the Premier with distinction. However, he crops up by writing the Foreword which is very interesting but disappointingly does not add any notes to his own games which are annotated by Brustkern.
There are many intriguing stories mixed in with a dash of chess history unique to the seaside town.
I was quite keen to read about how a twelve-year-old Judith Polgar who in 1989 won the strong Challengers event ahead of the seasoned professionals. I was there and if anyone doubts the story of Beth Hamon in the TV series Queen’s Gambit don’t because it has already happened. At the end of 1992 she returned to win the Premier in style and there is a nice piece about her sisters.
There are discussions about other star players and more importantly lots of photos to allow us to see the faces of the participants and a few of Hastings to add a certain ambience.
A cracking good read about the oldest international chess tournament in the world.
Spassky’s Best games- A Chess Biography by Alexy Bezgodov and Dmitry Oleinikov
published by New in Chess Softback, 280 pages. July 2023 (Review#85)
The story of the former World Champion rise to chess fame and some games to illustrate his genius.
The chess historian Bezgodov sets the scene on the rise and rise of the young master by introducing us to his main coaches which were Zak, Tolush and Bondarevsky. Spassky’s path to become the 10th World Champion is examined with extra emphasis on his title match with Petrosian. Of course, there is also plenty about his legendary 1972 match against Fischer and the rematch in 1992. There will be some who will be bored with this but anyone new to Spassky’s live are bound to be enlightened. The most interesting thing for me is when discussing a movie called Pawn Sacrifice about the games in Iceland he points out something rather revealing. “…there is no intrigue in the film, the main thing is missing- why I agreed to continue the match. After all, I could have stopped everything and left as the winner”. The quote is from 2015 and makes you wonder.
I had the honour of playing Spassky in a simultaneous display for English juniors in 1979. The thing that stuck out was his charm and all the mums were swooning. In his later years such as the 1980s, it was well known that he would pick up his large appearance fee and draw as often as possible. However, if you said no to an early handshake, he was quite happy to beat you. The book contains a number of black & white photos but I assume due to costs there is a limited number when you think he is one of most photographed players ever.
The chess games that are annotated by Oleinikov are deliberately slightly obscure to make them more entertaining to an audience who already knows Boris through his famous encounters. However, like most chess authors he is not averse to self-promotion. In the game Bauer-Spassky, we can probably guess why he chose to include it due to the line “By a fortunate coincidence, I am the author of a book called The Extreme Caro-Kann, devoted to this poisonous continuation”.
I can never be bored reading about Spassky because he had such an interesting life and his elite chess sparkles.
A brilliant introduction to a chess legend.
White Horses and Dark Knights by David Lovejoy
published independently, softback 245 pages. June 2023 (Review#84)
The acclaimed Australian chess player and writer has turned his hand at another novel. The idea is that could chess be a channel for muse inspiration? And could poetry, wild, intuitive poetry, be a matter for calculation? The story portrays the collision of two different worlds. Anyone who enjoyed the excellent chess based novel Moral Victories loosely based on the life of Savielly Tarkatower is bound to be delighted with this new addition. As a former journalist his prose and story telling are of a high standard and very enjoyable.
An absorbing story that will delight anyone.
The Chess Pub Quiz Puzzle book by Dimitri Reinderman
published by New In Chess, 144 pages. May 2023 (Review#83)
An entertaining collection of questions and mysterious photos for your pleasure.
The Dutch author is an avid quiz player which has it benefits and the occasional drawback. There are lots of intriguing questions but occasionally he assumes knowledge that is arguable. For example: a reference to IMDB will be obvious to a trivia buff but for chess players that will be wondering if the World Chess association has a new master title. It is in fact an acronym for Internet Movie Database. The chapter headings such as ‘Chess Players and their eyes’, ‘Chess Books’, ‘Breaking the Rules’ and ‘Nicknames’ give an indication that Reinderman really has put a lot of effort into this exceptional, fun project. I have hosted a couple of chess trivia evenings and thinking up questions that can’t be Googled is tough. The author must have envisaged a local club or two using his questions because he thwarts this by often using photos. This makes the book much better when you skim through it but some of the collages of photos are of low quality so it is tough to identify the person.
There is much to make you smile, inform and even shock you. The quality of the questions makes it an excellent read and somewhat thought provoking.
The ideal present for any chess player.
Keep it simple for Black: A Solid and Straightforward Chess Opening Repertoire for Black
By Christof Sielecki published by Chessable. Hardback, 444 pages. February 2023 (Review#82)
A repertoire system based on the Caro-Kann and the Queen’s Gambit declined.
The author is well known online as ChessExplained so has a sizeable following who will love this latest offering. However, the blurb on the back of the book points out that in 2021, it was voted as the best opening course on Chessable by its users. This might be a good sign for some but it is a red flag for me as it means the games are two years out of date.
A popular line against the Caro is the Advance Variation with 3 e5. Sielecki keeps up with previous repertoire books and recommends 3…c5. He calls the line the Arkell-Khenkin Variation which delightfully always irritates Keith who wonders why Khenkin is mentioned at all. Still, it has been known before the players were alive and featured in the 1961 World Championship between Tal and Botvinnik. It has the merit of avoiding the majority of theory and is a good practical decision.
I do like the way that the author tries to keep the amount of moves needed to reach a decent position to the minimum. I would say the book is aimed at players below 2050 and for that reason it does a good.
I know that some readers have already complained about the number of pages required to learn the Queen’s Gambit Declined but at some point, if you want to achieve a reasonable level at tournaments it requires work. If you only play online then we can discuss the advantages of trying to flag someone but as far as I know there is no book with a chapter on that, yet!
There is a chapter on various other first moves and Magnus Carlsen’s latest star touch for 1 b3 has a decent nine pages devoted to it.
A repertoire book that will help Black reach the next level.
1001 Chess Endgame Exercises for Beginners : The Tactics Workbook that also Improves Your Endgame Skills
By Thomas Willemeze, published by New In Chess, 312 pages. February 2023 (Review#81)
A puzzle book for the endgame. The Dutch author has collected 1001 examples of someone winning in the ending and put them together for education and entertainment.
There are plenty of checkmates in one move which is a reminder that this book is for keen beginners. All the answers are at the back in traditional style with a couple of words if you are lucky otherwise the solution is just given.
It is certainly a good idea to encourage players that there are still plenty of tactics in the ending because many people only think of dull rook and pawn games. It is certainly an entertaining way to learn and improve.
The chapters have an introduction where the theme of the puzzles is discussed with examples and some explanation of the ideas behind the situation.
A puzzle rush for future endgame experts.
The Dragon Sicilian : A Take-No-Prisoners Repertoire Versus 1.e4 by Anish Giri
published by Chessable, hardback 246 pages. January 2023 (Review#80)
An elite player gives his view on the Sicilian Dragon. The title of this book might sound familiar because it is already a Chessable course but is now available in book form. Normally, I frown on such items as openings quickly date so games from a couple of years can be quickly overtaken by more recent examples. However, there is a reason why Giri is one of the best players in the world and that is his knowledge backed up by computer analysis. In something as complicated and tricky as the Dragon you really need to know if your knight sacrifice works because otherwise you will simply be a piece down.
The idea is that the Dutch author provides a repertoire for someone playing Black against 1 e4 with the Sicilian. A famous Englishman Gawain Jones is also renowned for playing the Dragon but often his opponents avoid it with anti-Sicilian lines such as the C3 Sicilian or the Closed Sicilian. There are chapters on these openings to guide Black away from the obvious dangers. Of course, he has to concentrate on side lines because there is too much knowledge required in the main lines. However, this is the point of repertoire books to provide fairly easy to learn opening moves for those with limited time to study. The main lines of Giri’s Dragon provide entertaining games with limited analysis to make it easy to read.
Then again, if you were only relying on the book, I would be worried that White often has numerous reasonable replies. It could be that a few might be dubious but how to refute them? A modern author assumes you will probably use a computer to double check lines if you are in doubt and to cover everything would double the length of the book.
A guide to the Sicilian Dragon that is guaranteed to win you more games.
Chess Endgames for Club Players by Herman Grooten
published by New In Chess, 480 pages January 2023 (Review#79)
Everything you wanted to know about the endgame but were afraid to ask. The reliable Dutch author has come up with the idea to show the basics of modern endgame technique so any club player would be comfortable in most positions. Of course, something in depth would take many more books and Grooten is happy to hint that this is a future possibility. I do like the fact that he has included numerous Magnus Carlsen games to help illustrate a point he is making. It is too easy to fall into the trap of repeating older games and not allowing a new generation to be able to relate to players they see on the Internet.
The longest chapter is on rook endings which is not that surprising because in tournament play, they are most common. As usual there are helpful hints which might sound obvious to experienced players but to novices can help judge a position. For instance: The rook belongs behind a passed pawn- both behind its own passed pawn and behind an enemy passed pawn.
I like the mixture of explaining technique and then seeing it in action with the help of annotated game where we have skipped straight to the ending. It reminds me of Paul Keres’s Practical Chess Endings which is intended as a compliment.
A keen player would definitely raise their endgame rating.
The Youngest Chess Grandmaster in the World- at 12 years, 4 months, and 25 days by Abhimanyu Mishra
published by New In Chess, 204 pages. December 2022 (Review#78)
How to be brilliant at chess at age twelve. The tale of becoming the youngest grandmaster in the world can be easily explained as having an enormous talent. The reality is that is not enough to beat records so you have to chase norms around the world with the help of money, luck and outstanding play.
The American youngster writes with confidence but discreetly hidden in notes to the book it also credits his mum Swati with the text so I guess it has been polished to make it more readable. After all I don’t expect a teenager to quote Bruce Lee.
The tale starts with his parents emigrating from India to the USA in 2009 and soon shifts attention to his Dad teaching him the game. I have been lucky to observe a few chess prodigies in my time such as Nigel Short and Magnus Carlsen. In Nigel’s day it was quite difficult to achieve norms without travelling and consulting numerous books to improve. Magnus’s generation have the huge advantage of having a library in their laptop and not having to rely on the merit of their local chess club to play better players. I am sure if Carlsen had chased the record with earnest, it might have changed history. However, Abhimanyu deserves huge credit for his achievement aided by high level coaching and of course helped by his father who accompanied him to Budapest as they sought the last norm.
I particularly like the annotated games with the simplistic user-friendly notes and the way he climbs the master ladder with dramatic improvements. The thrilling endgame that ensures the title is a classic tournament game with time-trouble consuming his opponent allowing a bit of clever tactics to bring home the victory.
An entertaining and insightful account of how to become a Grandmaster.
The Checkmate Patterns Manual by Raf Mesotten
published by Chessable. Hardback 374 pages. November 2022 (Review#77)
A standard puzzle book attractively produced. This is another example of a Chessable course being converted to book form. If in doubt there is a reminder on the front page that ‘this book is also available as an online Move Trainer and Video course at Chessable.com.’ Basically, it is promoting the online resources while trying to make a few more dollars elsewhere and New In Chess are effectively the publisher in everything but name.
In this case the Belgian club player has done well in choosing an excellent title. It is clear and precise while the puzzles are old and well known, I suspect to a new audience they are entertaining.
One of the curious things about the set up of the book is that there is often half a blank page for no good reason. After all, if you are short of puzzles surely the author could find a few more to add to the contents? I am a big fan of puzzle books so it is nice to see this one in hardback and the explanations of the various themes such as Scholar’s mate and Fool’s mate will be helpful to a new generation of players.
A useful puzzle book for beginners.
Master Your Chess With Judit Polgar : Fight for the Center and Other Lessons. by Judith Polgar & Andras Toth.
Published by New In Chess, hardback 508 pages. October 2022 (Review#76)
How to be good by studying puzzles and looking at annotated games. The new business concept of transferring online video courses from Chessable to book form continues to gather pace.
In general, I am suspicious that opening books can be played at a high level if the video was completed a few years ago because there will be obviously new games to absorb. However, this type of concept is rather timeless as it looks at older games and provides pointers on how to succeed.
As you might suspect, Australian based International Master Toth did a lot of the work but because he was originally from Hungary, he was able to phone or email Judit in her native language to discuss how the video course should transpire. Of course, they both speak English but any wrinkles have been ironed out and you get numerous attacking games by the world renowned best female player of all time. There is also time to add examples of other players in order to emphasis various points. The chapter headings such as the Endgame, Opening Disasters, Positional Sacrifices, Strategy and The Initiative give a clue that just about all aspects are covered. A strong theme is attacking at every opportunity and Judit’s prowess makes the selection of games relatively easy and are always rather instructive.
Judit is the ultimate teacher and her attacking games are a wonder.
King’s Kalashnikov Sicilian : A Dynamic Black Repertoire for Club Players by Daniel King
published by New In Chess, hardback 192 pages. August 2022 (Review#75)
A general guide to the Kalashnikov Sicilian.
The one thing I notice when talk turns to this opening is general bafflement as to the name and even the moves. Therefore, it is worth noting that the opening occurs upon 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 and now 4…e5. It can be a tricky opening for Black chalking up decent victories because White is not always sure of how to respond.
The English grandmaster Daniel King has written notable books in the distant past such as Winning with the Najdorf but is nowadays more well know online where his videos are very popular. The answer is somewhere in between as this is a Chessable course that has been converted to book form. Basically, the Magnus Group have a big financial interest in the publisher and the online course so it makes perfect business sense to combine the two. In the old days, World Champions would play for the title in return for a bumper pay day but Carlsen’s very successful business activities might have had an influence on his decision not to bother with such things. Another Englishman who is likely to benefit from this new business deal is Simon Williams as he has produced lots of interesting online material so it is just a matter of time before such a popular chess celebrity can add more book titles to his name.
As for King’s book it presents a lot of planning and understanding behind the opening. As you might expect from a video course, the opening references are already dated and there is not much detailed analysis. If you want a deeper look at the opening then Cornette and Libiszewki’s The Complete Kalashnikov published by chess-evolution is worth checking out. However, King’s book is beautifully produced and the author’s enthusiasm for the opening is contagious.
The perfect introduction to the Kalashnikov for the improving player.
The Match of All Time : The Inside Story of the legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Gudmundur Thorarinsson.
published by New In Chess, 224 pages. July 2022 (Review#74)
A behind the scenes look at famous match by the man who organised it.
There are lots of books about this great World championship match but none have the insight of author Thorarinsson who is the man who led the team who made it happen. As the Icelandic Chess Federation President, he bid for the match and against all the odds it happened and changed the chess world as it suddenly became a fashionable game.
This is a wonderful, compelling account that has twists and turns in all directions. He became the President by accident having not attended the meeting and being proposed by a friend to stop an argument. This may well have changed the course of modern chess because it helped set in motion a chain of incredible events that led to the match making the front pages of newspapers fifty years ago. There are plenty of black and white photos to capture the mood of the era and remind us what previous World Champions looked like. There a number of chapters on previous champions before the author now aged in his 80s can reveal what really happened in all those endless discussions, scandals and cold war politics.
This is the fascinating part for any fan who has followed this event throughout the years or by people who want to know what really happened behind the scenes. What might be forgotten now is that Fischer initially refused to play the match despite everything ready. The author reveals a meeting with Spassky that led him to persuade the Icelandic government to contact the White House in an effort to speed things up. It was the famous Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who fatefully phoned Bobby with the immortal line “Here is the worst chess player in the world calling the best chess player in the world.” Suitably, inspired to be representing his country against the Russians he went and won the title.
It does not have a happy ending as detailed in the book Fischer later faced jail time in the US having broken trade sanctions when playing against Spassky again in 1992. Neutral commentators at the time remarked how arms dealers seemed exempt but not a soft target like Fischer. In that era Fischer made more and more outrageous comments but Thorarinsson adopted a humanitarian approach and helped campaigned to bring him out of detention in Japan and back to Iceland. Once again, we can read very revealing accounts of how the Icelandic Embassy offered no help until a TV station helped champion their cause.
The book concludes fittingly with Bobby’s death in 2008 and Spassky poignantly sent a message to the memorial service “ …We are with Bobby and he is with us for ever. Bobby was my Brother”.
An exceptionally revealing book that will be treasured by any fan of Bobby Fischer.
Improve Your Chess Calculation : The Ramesh Chess Course – Volume 1, by Ramesh RB
published by New In Chess, 332 pages. July 2022 (Review#73)
A way to improve your tactical and positional instincts.
The Indian grandmaster gives a large number of extracts from games and asks the reader to solve the problem. The difference with a normal puzzle book is that there is much more prose connected to the answer and as you progress the solution is not so much a tactic but a plan. I like Ramesh’s chatty approach and although the games were usually well known to me, I know that the latest generation are still amazed at ancient games from the 1990s. The theme throughout is how to improve calculation and the answer is basically hard work. The argument is that by training in solving puzzles or how to create a plan will help your instincts to be more alert when you actually play a game.
There is a generous forward from Anand which I am sure is most welcome but then a couple of pages are devoted to testimonials saying what a great coach the author is, which I am sure is true but save it for your CV as it is very boring.
The chapters such as ‘Forcing Moves’ and ‘Common mistakes chess players make while calculating variations’ indicate some headings are more to the point than others. Still, both are very entertaining and thought provoking. A great way for a studious student to improve.
If you are serious about your chess, you need the Ramesh chess course.
Kingwalks- Paths of Glory by Yasser Seirawan & Bruce Harper
published by Russell Enterprises, 288 pages.
June 2022 (Review#72)
A compilation of entertaining games where the king plays a vital role by marching up the board. I think when most players are requested to name a successful attack featuring a king then they recall the classic Short-Timman game which even the Englishman includes in every lecture that he gives. The fame means that books routinely repeat it as an ideal example but there are plenty more to enjoy. Seirawan and Harper choose a number of topics such as kingwalks in the opening/ending to give them more choice to illustrate unusual king moves because just looking for checkmate will give them a limited choice. There is a nod to previous books where they have borrowed material such as Edmar Mednis’s The King in the Middlegame and Tim Krabbé’s acclaimed work Chess Curiosities. It is nice that they acknowledge such things but in the past I know that Tim in particular has not been keen for such things to be borrowed as puzzle author John Emms infamously found out. However, as the charismatic Yasser nowadays resides in Amsterdam, his personal friendship is bound to smooth things over.
There are seventeen chapters to give the player or coach plenty of excellent material to savour. This means there are an abundance of examples that make you gasp and a few where you think the king stroll has been added to make up th enumbers.
The classic Short-Timman game does appear in the chapter entitled Mating Attacks and although it has been analysed countless times, they curiously give some old analysis by GM Ian Rogers in order to point out that it is wrong. Well, as the game was played in 1991 it is easy to be wiser when using Fritz to analyse.
An absorbing collection of incredible games.
Countering the Queen’s Gambit by Michael Pruskin
published by New In Chess, 224 pages. May 2022 (Review#71)
An opening repertoire for Black against 1 d4. The success of the Netflix Queen’s gambit television series is the inspiration for the striking cover which is impressive. However, just in case you don’t know how clever they have been it is explained on the back cover “The screen adventures of Beth Harmon have inspired thousands to start playing the Royal game but didn’t offer any information on this highly popular chess opening. This book fills that gap”. This sounds like a promotional advert for a book shop owner but rather glib to anyone interested in buying high level chess books such as this.
The German grandmaster does a good job of explaining the Carlsbad pawn structure and the typical plans associated with the Queen’s gambit Declined which is the sequence 1 d4 d5 2 c4 and now 2…e6. The modern approach to analysis is evident with Pruskin commenting in chapter 5 “Again a position has been reached which the engine happily gives three zeros.” The problem is that the computer software makes it clear there are equal chances and the author then tried to convince players of the Black pieces there are winning chances.
It is not an easy task which is why choosing fighting lines in repertoire books is so tough. This is especially true of an opening such as this where Black has not accepted the free pawn and instead is normally content with equality. Still, there are plenty of chapters that strive to make a difference for Black. I was particularly impressed that he has taken the time to comment on how to deal with the other associated d4 openings such as the Catalan, Colle, London and the Versov. There is even time for short chapters on how to deal with various off beat lines such as 1 f4, 1 b3 and even the Grob with 1 g4. Now, it might seem trivial but at club level, wild and wacky openings do sometimes appear so a good repertoire should cover such possibilities so that is a big tick in its favour.
An opening repertoire for Black that will make you want to see the Queen’s gambit.
The Greatest Attacker in Chess by Cyrus Lakdawala
published by New In Chess. 288 pages. May 2022 (Review#70)
A collection of games by Rashid Nezhmetdinov that feature attacking themes by a former Russian champion.
The first thing you notice is that on the cover of the book is the stunning boast “17 million views on You Tube”. The obvious impression is that this must be a chess classic in my hands and it is so popular that somehow this book has been viewed online millions of times. In fact, it is a deceitful line that apparently guesses how many times games by Nezhmetdinov have been watched on the internet. As you read more, hidden away on the inside pages is a reference of a game against Chernikov, as shown on Agadmator’s YouTube channel. I really don’t like false claims on the cover of a chess book even if it increases sales of this particular tome, it diminishes whatever New In Chess put on their next book. Why trust them? After all anything about Anand or Kasparov could use the line viewed over 100 million times, although admittedly this approach won’t always work otherwise English International Master Angus Dunnington will have to add 914 views.
Still, the games themselves are sparklingly as there seem to be wave after wave of attacks. It appears that the American author Lakdawala is chasing Ray Keene’s record of producing non-stop books and as always, his prose does divide readers as he tends to use jargon seen on banter blitz videos.
It is a nice book with generous annotations which will widen the audience for a relatively little-known player. It is a curious fact that he did not become a grandmaster during his lifetime (1912-1974) because it was necessary to play foreigners for norms which was rarely possible at Soviet tournaments.
Think of the attacking style of World Champion Tal and then double it and you have Nezhmetdinov.
100 Endgame Patterns You Must Know -Recognize Key Moves & Motifs and Avoid Typical Errors by Jesus De la Villa
published by New In Chess, 464 pages. April 2022 (Review#69)
An endgame book designed to appeal to a wide audience. The previous works of the author have proved to be bestsellers in the chess world largely due to the catchy title 100 Endgames You Must Know. Now, if you think a title does not matter then another bestseller with a collection of less than a hundred simple checkmates would be common but if you call it ‘How To Beat Your Dad’ and produce a nice hardback version you are on to a winner. Therefore, the Spanish Grandmaster can be forgiven for keeping to his 100 theme for his latest endgame excursion. The idea of looking at similar endings is well known to reinforce ideas and to make the reader see that learning a technique can improve results. While other authors such as Nunn would often find the truth behind endgame positions by using computer analysis to find the absolute best sequence of moves, De La Villa takes a more practical approach. There is enough analysis to give everyone confidence to play the recommended plan but it is not overwhelming to put off the improving player. This is a delicate balance but the author does a good job in choosing instructive games that flow allowing him to give us insights into understanding how to make progress.
It is a hefty read with over 400 pages but it is the sort of book you dip in to from time to time and it will certainly help.
An easy way to improve your performance in the ending.
Winning the World Open by Joel Benjamin & Harold Scott
published by New In Chess 342 pages. March 2022 (Review#68)
A look at the winners and history of the prestigious World Open tournament held in the USA. This a famous event that Americans love to participate although English grandmaster Tony Miles did comment cheekily that it was … ‘really just a pretentious week-long Swiss’. He might have a point but once you start reading about the background story it did help to transform the way tournaments in the USA were held.
Now with tournament books a tried and trusted formula is to present news about the event covering each year until the present day. While the authors, try to do that they add a twist by focusing on the multiple winners of the tournament with a sprinkling of best games and what factors helped them win the 1st prize. There are also lots of fun stories such as grandmaster Gufeld fuming at a quick loss against Sunil Weeramantry (Nakamura’s step-dad) and threatening him with the line ‘Don’t let me catch you outside of the United States’.
The impressive reputation of the tournament led me to playing in 1980 so I know that the weird thing about the event is that you have to bring your own chess set and clock. Perhaps others would find it stranger that the English Chess Federation sent four teenage boys to New York, the oldest being 16 with the instructions to catch a Greyhound bus to Philadelphia. The one enduring memory was seeing the co-author Benjamin practice his pretend Kung Fu kicks to a group of chess players who fell about laughing at the skinny kid. Still, he went on to win the Open six times which is still a record.
There are black & white photos of the top players but it would have been nice to see an example of the tournament with hundreds of players in attendance. Still, these are minor quibbles as it is certainly an entertaining read filled with interesting tales and well annotated games.
A famous tournament now has an instructive book that equals its excellent reputation.
Off the Board Chess -The Best Games & Chess Experiences of Andrew Smith (FM) by Andrew Smith
Hardback 414 pages. March 2022 (Review #67)
The chess lifestyle of a weekend tournament expert by the use of games and anecdotes.
This engaging work is by Andrew Smith who readers familiar with the English chess scene will think of as a player constantly hovering around the 2200 level and a keen participant in the London club scene. I think many of us have thought about publishing our memoirs but normally the ups and downs of Lewisham or Slough chess club does not appeal to the obvious publishers.
This large A4 hardback continues in the tradition of recent years of being self-published allowing the author to come up with all sorts of stories and indulge himself with entertaining games. I think anyone who fancies putting out their own book might like to see how Smith has organised his resources. I can also recommend other self-published books such as John Brown about the chess composer by Brian Gosling, Memorable Games of British Chess by Neil Hickman and Chess Scribe by David LeMoir.
In any best games collection, one always mentions the encounters against famous players so Nigel Short pops up as does Matthew Sadler, Michael Adams and Luke McShane but some of the wins or losses are when the players are rather young. The amusing stories that accompany the games will have readers nodding in agreement as they detail terrible hotels, being locked out of your car just as the game is about to begin, the Torquay Gambit and clubs who twist the rules to their advantage.
The one thing that shines through is Smith’s love of the game. It is rather shocking to read that as a teenager he turned up at tournaments with a sleeping bag in order to save money by taking up a nightly residence in the local park.
He has a knack of describing some of the characters that he hangs around with so well that you warm to them although sadly over the years many of them have passed on. It would have been nice to have extra photos to add a bit of background information but of course that can cost a lot extra when producing your own book. Still, there are a few colour photos of Andrew playing various people such as Kortchnoi in a simul and McShane in the King’s Head pub. The good thing is that because the vast majority of the games are from before 2004 there might be a sequel.
A truly, wonderful book for any casual player who loves a good story and games where sacrifices seem to occur all the time.
1001 Chess Exercises for Advanced club players by Frank Erwich
Published by New In Chess, 216 pages. February 2022 (Review #66)
The idea is to up the standard of advanced club players who are apparently rated according to the back cover between 1800-2300. Erwich once again indulges in a tried and trusted formula of using chapters to outline a few themes with interesting games and then present lots of diagrams. It was certainly successful in his previous tome 1001 Chess Exercises for the Club Players so the recipe is repeated here although of course the puzzles are a little tougher. There are 1001 answers at the back with usually a bit of explanation for the moves which works well. However, I am not so keen on internet game examples where we don’t know the identity of the players. For instance: AJN9-Woofledust is example 262. If you can’t work out the players names simply find another example. A quick internet search reveals the answer because Oliver Reeh presented the diagram in a Chessbase article on the 14th April 2017 to help promote a Chessbase rapid event and it was copied. That is fine as every author collects interesting positions but maybe real names would be a bonus even if you have to direct message the players. The chapters tend to be tactical but there is one on defence to offer a different view point compared to the relentless attacks elsewhere.
There is plenty to satisfy any keen player and enough insights to inspire a rapid elo rise.
A tactical training guide for the ambitious player.
Chess Buccaneer – The Life and games of Manuel Bosboom
by Peter Boel & Merijn Van Delft
published by New In Chess. February 2022 (Review #65)
A Dutch player is revealed to have lots of loyal friends and plays great games of chess.
I suspect the name of International Master Manuel Bosboom will be a mystery to many casual players but as someone who played a lot of chess in the 90s throughout Holland he is a familiar face. It soon becomes clear that the authors adore him and his maverick chess style. The obvious person to compare him with is Michael Basman who is famous for playing 1 g4 and inspiring Tony Miles to play 1…a6 and beat the then reigning World Champion Karpov. Sure enough, there is an entertaining game between the players with Bosboom as White that goes 1 c4 g5 2 h4 and white wins in 24 moves. Black misses a spectacular draw on move 20 but nobody mentions that Basman is aged in his 70s at the time of the game and barely plays tournaments. I think a better comparison is with the British grandmaster Simon Williams who is better known nowadays online as the GingerGM. This is because they both tend to have the option of pursuing mainlines but have a penchant for off-beat opening lines.
The games of Bosboom are great because just about every time sees him trying to win the brilliancy prize. This is partly because a chess professional has to keep winning to make more money so boring draws are not really considered. He is particularly an expert in blitz and is lucky enough that his country has loads of tournaments allowing him to take on lots of famous names. He was even invited to one mega strong event and actually beat Kasparov! Garry never likes losing so this triumph in 1999 is rightly cherished. There are numerous stories of his devotion to chess, amusing anecdotes and comments of how his skill triumphed in various tournaments.
On the back cover of the book is a photo of the man himself, looking cool with a drink, outside his small home with an ancient windmill in the background. The image of a rock star is complete until you realise he actually lives next door to his parents.
I think some readers will struggle with the numerous references to drug taking which in Holland would hardly cause a shrug. Apart from using two different spellings for marijuana, it is revealed in 98 his 1st place at a strong blitz tournament “he attributes his success to the hallucinatory mushrooms he had eaten one week before…”. Perhaps not the perfect role model. There are frequent references to Manuel not being good with money so that when he bets an opponent the price of a beer, he cannot fund the transaction so a mate buys the drink instead. One point of view is that this is a typical chess player and another is that if he spent less money on drugs, he could afford to get his round in.
The one thing with this book is that you will never be bored by the tales and the fantastic victories.
A collection of brilliant games and amazing stories.
Oops I Resigned Again by Ian Rogers
published by Russell Enterprises. February 2022 (Review #64)
A puzzle book with a difference. The Australian grandmaster has collected a hundred positions where the person resigning could have at least drawn or even won. This is a fun idea to collect games where someone gave up at the wrong time and add a background anecdote to add interest to the result.
The forward is by the American Sam Shankland who reminds us that even at his elite level he managed to truly mess up an entertaining finish. The crucial thing is that it is not just resigning at the wrong time but there is a clear way out leading to an equal position or even winning. This makes the task of finding suitable positions somewhat arduous but Rogers has been collecting them for years. He mentions a few books that inspired him including Blunders and Brilliancies and Chess Curiosities. This might have prompted a novel approach of giving the answers straight after the chapter rather than altogether at the end. Of course, both approaches are fine but Rogers old school attitude works well as there is no chance of getting advance warning of the solutions by accidently glancing at the forthcoming answer.
The chapter headings such as Oops! I’m Completely Forked!, Oops! There Goes First Prize! and Oops! I’m Getting Mated! give a clear indication that the book is aimed at entertainment and if you learn a few ways to salvage a position that is a bonus.
I did notice the author had persuaded his Australian contacts for a few positions not seen elsewhere so although they are not played by highly rated masters, all of us can relate to the crazy finishes experienced by the players.
A superb chess puzzle book with an unexpected twist.
The Silicon Road to Chess Improvement by Matthew Sadler
published by New In Chess, 560 pages. January 2022 (Review #63)
How best to play like a computer in your own games?
The one thing you notice in the Englishman’s writing is the frequent use of TCEC which is Top Chess Engine Competition because this is a collection of games mostly played by computer software against each other. The idea is that we can witness these amazing computer versus computer games and learn how to harness their insights for our own games. It seems like a lofty ambition but Sadler is fairly convincing. The idea is to present some model games in various openings and try to imitate the immaculate play.
It is already apparent in over the board chess that players are trying to play like computers and often failing. The obvious one is grabbing pawns while neglecting development when a computer can defend with extraordinary choices, while the rest of is just lose. Another influence is openings that are declared equal but one side has to defend like a World Champion to clinch the draw. Sadler presents some of his own games where he says the influence of AlphaZero is apparent. The games in chapters such as ‘engine sacrifices’ and ‘whole board play’ are entertaining and there are numerous occasions when the computer plays a move that defies logical but wins.
There is so much to inspire and Sadler tries to make it all run smoothly but sometimes the complicated annotations are overwhelming. However, I particularly like the King’s Indian section which is filled with wonderful ideas for both colours.
The amazing games will make you stop, think and reassess your chess in a positive way.
Magnus Carlsen- A Life In Pictures
published by New In Chess, 206 pages. December (Review #62)
A classic coffee table book filled with photos of Magnus Carlsen. It is a basic concept but with unique access to family snaps, which makes it an enjoyable experience to follows the highs and highs of his chess career.
The obvious question is why bother producing such a lightweight book? However, Magnus is a genuine celebrity and if this was not around, I am sure some enterprising publisher would produce an unofficial version. Of course, he is now a part owner of New In Chess, so you can bet his family were happy with the product. He has been lucky enough to meet some influential stars such as Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who are featured, whilst others such as Vladimir Putin and Cristiano Ronaldo are excluded so blame that on image management or copyright issues. There is even a nod to his female fanbase as in some pictures he is wearing very little.
Now every time I used to see amiable American grandmaster Jon Tisdall, he would tell everyone that Magnus was his pension plan as he had spent decades in Norway reporting on chess. Sure enough, now in his 60s it is even more apparent as he was chosen to add the words which are short chapter introductions. While the brief comments next to the pictures are done by the New In Chess editorial team.
The Norwegian is one of the most accessible World Champions and arguably the richest. His promotion of chess under the umbrella of the Magnus Group is magnificent with his banter online or relentless plugging of the Play Magnus app introducing the game to another generation.
I reckon if you want Magnus to sign a book next year at the London Classic, he will be happy to oblige with this one.
An absorbing journey of a child prodigy turned chess superstar through the lens of photographers.
Caruana’s Ruy Lopez by Fabiano Caruana
published by New In Chess, 206 pages. November (Review #61)
A white repertoire against the Roy Lopez by one of the world’s elite players.
It is always an invaluable insight to know what a top player recommends for club players.
The American is renowned for being a theory expert so initially it is rather baffling that the games are from 2018 or before. It is the introduction that surprising reveals that the book has been compiled from a DVD. Apparently in 2019 there was a three-volume video called Navigating the Ruy Lopez which Englishman Sean Marsh has transcribed.
In fairness, the flow and easy reading style of the book is excellent and unlike the video there is not a single um, oh and huh to be seen. It does seem strange to have a video go straight to book form but it is no real surprise because top players simply don’t have time to write such things. After all, there are plenty of puzzle books with Kasparov’s name attached but I doubt if he had sleepless nights selecting thoughtful examples.
Now that New In Chess are owed by the Magnus Group it is only a matter of time before all those blitz games that Magnus Carlsen comments on via the Internet end up in print form, which to be honest would be no bad thing.
Anyway, Caruana advocates main lines where available but more importantly provides solutions to all those pesky sidelines that crop up at weekend tournaments. Therefore, we have shortcut answers to the Schliemann Defence and even a look at the relatively obscure Norwegian Variation. While he encouragingly finds a way to cope with the Berlin which avoids the tedious ending.
An easy way to transform the level you play the Ruy Lopez.
This expert repertoire makes it clear why ‘Ruy Lopez’ should be Caruana’s middle name .
The Magnus Method by Emanuel Neiman
published by New In Chess, 320 pages. November (Review #60)
A deep analysis of what it takes to become the World Champion.
Magnus Carlsen is an amazing elite player but I have a feeling history will look back even fonder of his presence at how he has helped the chess boom by being media friendly.
He is happy to play Banter Blitz games even against random players which involves commentating live for online viewers, which is remarkable when you consider in the old days we would usually have to wait for the Best Games book in the twilight of their chess career. Of course, all this swagger on social media has to be backed up by results and he has been remarkably consistent over the years.
Now a French author has stepped forward to try to unravel why Magnus is so good. There are so many games to choose from it is an easy job to fill chapters such as Tactics, Exchanges, Calculation and Planning. I like the way diagrammed positions are set up to illustrate certain themes and after we have failed to work out the plan there is a discussion of how he won. I wish at times that Neiman did a little more investigation such as when he presents the game Carlsen-Harikrishna, Stavanger 2016 and points out that the key move 20 Qe3 is an echo of an old Botvinnik game. The obvious question is whether Carlsen knew that? I am sure at the time he would have been interviewed after the game or commented on it for a magazine. Just a small detail but an answer might have made this excellent book even better.
I do like the long explanations about style, his patience in dull positions and of course his overwhelming desire to try and win every game. Occasionally, the author gets carried away as it is rare for someone to mention their wife’s full maiden name, his son’s name and even his best mate when telling us of how he saw Magnus compete in the London Classic after a train journey from Paris, which apparently took 2hr 15m. I notice only the wife gets the book dedicated to her, so son Hugo should hope for The Magnus Method 2 which is highly likely if Carlsen hangs on to his title in 2021.
An insight into the games of a World Champion and how to adopt his success.
1 e4 Coffeehouse Repertoire volume 1 by Gawain Jones
published by Quality Chess, 428 pages. October (Review #59)
An opening repertoire book for those who want the initiative when playing 1 e4.
The English grandmaster has always been intrigued by sharp openings and his numerous tournament successes demonstrate it can give you a significant advantage. I first met him when he was aged 8, when he quizzed me on my opening books so he is well placed to offer a guide to club players.
The main task of taking on the Sicilian features 2 Nc3 but he does not suggest his old favourite The Grand Prix Attack. Instead, against for example 2…d6 he suggests the quirky Carlsen line which is 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 Nc6 and now 5 Qd2 which is a perfect way to bamboozle an opponent. It is worth pointing out that 2…Nc6 in the Sicilian is met by 3 Bb5 or 3 Nge2 in an effort to avoid the mainlines.
The author manages to entice the reader with more curiosities with the 428 pages with a really sound, interesting repertoire. In the past, people have often wondered if these opening guides would match up against top players and in this instance the answer is a resounding yes. Jones has used a lot of these opening in over the board games and especially blitz. His treatment of the Caro-Kann is the exchange variation with a twist to secure his trademark initiative in the opening. He also shines a light on the Scandinavian making a point of undermining David Smerdon’s book on the opening.
This makes perfect sense as an opponent a weekend tournament is likely to be armed with knowledge of the Scandinavian books so a shortcut to beating them is welcome. The section on the Alekhine sees Jones recommend the Four Pawns Attack which is the mega mainline and involves learning lots of theory. He defends his decision on the basis that he plays it and considers the line to be in White’s favour, pointing some black sidelines have been refuted.
The one thing consistent throughout all the analysis of the opening is a desire to create a repertoire that can last for years. It is difficult to pinpoint who the reader should be but a 2200 would welcome these openings while an 1800 would surely gain rating points.
The right way to obtain opening success with 1 e4.
WINNING by Nigel Short
published by Quality Chess, hardback, 416 pages. September (Review #58)
How to extend your best games collection into several volumes?
England’s world title contender has come up with the brilliant marketing scheme of using his first ever book to illustrate a hugely successful career with eight tournament victories. This allows room for other titles such as the Road to the World Championship, British Chess Tournaments, Short Simultaneous Displays and the much anticipated England at the Olympiads. The current format allows the author to go through the all play all tournament games including draws, to add an insight that is helped considerably by hindsight and experience.
There are plenty of black and white photos which helps the reader to see Nigel age through the decades and bring to life the various famous names. This is a big plus and a big tick for Quality Chess. The only slight criticism is that the collection of photos for Iran v World includes routine screen shots from a video. While a double page photo of the players eating dinner is odd and made funnier by the fact that Nigel is sandwiched in the middle of the pages, so you can barely recognise him. There is also a curious photo of Timman and Short to illustrate a game from Reykjavik 1987 but it is taken two years after the event. Of course, it is not easy or cheap to collect such images as famous chess photographers such as David Llada and England’s Mark Huba understandably expect payment but on such a prestigious project one would hope for the best.
I think the author’s trademark knack of being quite blunt is in evidence as he often reveals things about players that are normally reserved for whispers at the bar. So he names rivals who like a drink, experience depression and complains about inept organisers.
This book was widely tipped to be the English Chess Federation book of the year before it was published and is still likely be the first winner to include a four letter word beginning with f, which Nigel apparently said when blundering a rook.
Highly recommended and a fascinating lesson on how to conduct high level chess.
The Exhilarating Elephant Gambit by Jakob Aabling-Thomsen and Michael Agermose Jensen
published by Quality Chess, 416 pages. September (Review #57)
A swashbuckling chess opening that will have your opponent bewildered after two moves.
The Elephant Gambit occurs after 1 e4 e5 Nf3 and now 2…d5. Of course, it is a side-line but the opportunities to lure the unwary into complications is vast. The experienced players tend to try to avoid main lines with safe responses meaning that you end up at a position with equal chances but probably more time on the clock. I suspect this is a great opening choice for online players who like to up the tension as soon as possible.
In the 1990s Batsford suggested I write a book on the opening or at least a gambit repertoire book. Consequently, I did investigate the line and at Cappelle La Grande in France, grandmaster Mark Hebden did admit to me that he had played it in a few tournaments. My book never happened but I did write an article for the magazine ‘Kingpin’ using his games from the weekend tournament circuit. After another 20 years this is the reason why there are two chapters called the Hebden Gambit Accepted/Avoided. I did enquire recently to Mark if he planned to repeat his heroics in the line and received the cheery reply “I only play proper stuff these days!”.
The Danish authors enthusiasm is infectious with the wild and wonderful games a treat to observe. It is exceptionally well researched with references to obscure sources, Englishman Jonathan Rogers’s monograph and the games of FM Dr Philip Corbin who went on a mission to popularise the opening at the Olympiad when representing Barbados.
If you play the exciting Elephant Gambit, it will be a game you never forget.
The Scandinavian for Club Players by Thomas Willemze
published by New In Chess, softback 268 pages. August 2021 (Review #56)
This sounds like the answer to many players dreams.
The Scandinavian is perfect for people who want to get their opening on the board as soon as possible because after 1 e4 Black answers with 1…d5. In this case, the author recommends the line for Black that occurs after 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 and now 3…Qa5 which is hardly a revelation as this was the standard main line for decades.
Willemze’s approach is to worry about how a player rated roughly 2000 and below might handle the opening and tries to give a clear path to equality. If White pushes too quickly then there are annotated games to give Black a plan on how to handle such things and take the initiative.
.I particularly like the way he treats with respect all the weird and wonderful ways how White might try to ignore the opening or try to refute it. Hence, there are valuable tips on how to deal with 2 e5 which is common in weekend tournaments while the outrageous move 2 d4 is shown to transpose to a line in the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit and a safe, sensible line is recommended to diffuse the tension. In general, the variations are straightforward and look on paper easy to remember. The author has the knack of knowing his audience and making it easy to absorb the opening moves without frightening them off with numerous alternatives that need to be memorised.
The prefect way to learn and win with the Scandinavian.
The London System in 12 Practical lessons by Oscar De Prado
published by New In Chess, softback 272 pages. August 2021 (Review #55)
How to play the London System for the improving player.
The idea is not to aim for master level, endless computer analysis of the opening but patiently explain the ideas and use games that complement the strategy. If you are still wondering about the opening then basically the set-up according to the author is 1 d4, Bf4, Ng4 e3, c3 and h3 “and which can be played against almost any response.”
It has been adopted by elite players such as Carlsen as he is happy to outplay his opponents from an equal middlegame but there are plenty of tricks and traps. At the moment, just about anything associated with the London sells well because it has a huge presence for online players and streamers who are able to knock out seven, solid moves of theory with hardly any thinking to do. De Prado has more credibility than most when it comes to this opening as he also wrote the book The Agile London System. Still, he seems to be sensitive to some mild criticism as he devotes a few pages dealing with analysis by Kiril Georgiev’s book Fighting the London System which pointed out improvements against Oscar’s lines in his previous book. This can potentially be an endless task, if you also look up critical book reviews, online comments and starts to look like a Twitter spat that helps no one.
The rest of the book is excellent in detailing how to play the opening, the middlegame ideas and what to do against the obvious Black defences.
Play the London System with confidence in 12 easy lessons.
Chess Board Options by Larry Kaufman
published by New In Chess, softback, 224 pages. August 2021 (Review #54)
The American grandmaster is considered to be chess royalty.
He has met and played against numerous elite players and knows the USA chess scene inside and out. This memoir has to mention Fischer and sure enough the author saw him as a child give one of his legendary simultaneous displays in 1964. This gives a good excuse for a chapter on the former World Champion and other famous players receive the same treatment such as Kasparov, Kortchnoi and Spassky.
The tabloid newspapers all picked up one chapter where he puts forward a convincing argument that the novelist Walter Nevis could have been inspired to write about the character Beth Harmon due to his ex-girlfriend Diana Lanni. It turns out that Nevis and Lanni moved in the same chess circles and she suddenly rapidly improved from a novice to an Olympiad player despite her addictions.
There are some topics that are not quite so exciting for some, such as shogi and computer chess but these are important for Kaufman and it is his book. Therefore, you get the chance to find out what he is thinking across a broad range of chess topics from coaching to opening analysis. Even his casual line “The King’s Indian was a major top level defense, now its rarely seen. I think this is primarily a result of the engines loving space.” is a perceptive insight. He certainly has a point and his chapter on material values is another chance to stop and think about a topic that needs more discussion. There are plenty of black and white photos to help bring the topics to life.
A chess treat for connoisseurs of the game.
The Unstoppable American
by Jan Timman published by New In Chess, Softback 251 pages.July 2021 (Review #53)
In 2022 it will the fiftieth anniversary of the Fischer-Spassky match so the avalanche of books celebrating the event has started. A spoiler alert for the kids as the American wins and there is a chess boom around the world. Timman’s wise approach is to investigate more deeply the Candidates matches leading to his tilt at the title as well as significant games from the 1970s.
The annotations are simply outstanding which is a difficult task because Fischer’s games have been exhaustively analysed and indeed Kasparov is often quoted. The good thing with Timman is that he excels at describing why Fischer made his opening choices due to the nature of the theory at the time and in reference to other games of that era. Nowadays, the Fischer books tend to point out his paranoia in that era thinking that the Soviets were ganging up against him. Indeed, I remember Julian Hodgson asking Viktor Korchnoi in the 1980s that exact question and it was the only time he failed to give an answer beyond shaking his head in all directions. In 1962 at the Candidates Tournament at Curacao 1962, Bobby caused uproar when suggesting Geller, Keres and Petrosian has prearranged draws to save their energy. Yet, decades later the Soviet delegation leader Yuri Averbakh agreed it was true. The case supporting Fischer is also reinforced by Timman who quotes Karpov who says that the Petrosian-Kortchnoi match was fixed near the end as it was assumed Petrosian was the best bet to defeat Fischer. In return, Kortchnoi was rewarded with three prestigious international invitations. Admittedly, some might argue that Hastings in winter is not that glamourous!
It might seem odd that the match in Reykjavik is not covered but this has been explored before when Timman edited/added to Euwe’s book Fischer World Champion! and I would be astonished if it is not reprinted to celebrate the match.
An important addition are the numerous black and white photos of the famous players which help to bring to life such an amazing story as Fischer crushes his opponents 6-0 in matches, which even now seems astonishing.
Instructive games and an awesome chess career combine to make this essential reading.
Edgard Colle: Caissa’s Wounded Warrior
by Taylor Kingston published by Russell Enterprises, 272 pages. July 2021 (Review #53)
A celebration of the life of the Belgian master who tragically died aged just 34. The American author presents numerous games to highlight Colle’s brilliance and at times his vulnerability. He is perhaps best known in the chess world as lending his name to the opening The Colle and Fred Reinfeld’s classic book Colle’s Chess Masterpieces.
I lived in Belgium in the 90s when a professional chess player and Colle was revered as a great master. I know a couple of people who would routinely visit the national library to look up old newspapers in search of obscure chess columns for forgotten games. I even included a few when I wrote a book on the opening called The Ultimate Colle in 2001. The author does his best to illuminate this talented but doomed life but does add “A definitive biography of Colle would require extensive research in European archives, something this writer’s circumstances don’t permit.” That is fair enough from an historic point of view so we can carry on cherishing a number of remarkable games.
Colle won Amsterdam 1926 ahead of Tartakower and the future World Champion Euwe also he won twice at Scarborough ahead of Maroczy and Rubinstein. He was burdened with a gastric ulcer which led to his chess understandably going downhill until his untimely death. However, Kingston does a good job organising the chapters to show off Colle’s prowess with headings such as Marvelous Miniatures and Colle’s Fighting Games. The comments are good for improving players because they reveal what is going on and provide just enough analysis to understand variations without getting carried away with computer moves.
A great way to rediscover a famous Belgian.
The Queen’s Gambit Accepted
by Jonathon Arnott and Rosie Irwin, available in paperback and hardback, 223 pages published by Steel City Press. June 2021 (Review #52)
A beginner’s book with a twist. The format is based on a female fan of the Netflix hit Queen’s Gambit wanting to learn the game to a sufficient level where she can take on experienced players. There might be some people not familiar with Arnott but he has already written a chess book called Chess – Crowood Sports Guides by the Crowood Press and has been involved in the Yorkshire chess scene for years, such as manager of the White Rose team in the 4NCL.
However, he is better known to most people as a politician and was elected a Member of the European Parliament. The book itself is full of the usual general advice that people new to the game need to take the next step. The difference is that often insight to certain positions or stand questions are given more prominence. The big advantage is that it is aimed at adults which from my experience with people new to the game is a positive.
A lot of book shops have their hobbies and games section understandably dominated by titles for kids. After a while, reading about soldiers and war games can be tiresome even for older teenagers so this a welcome change.
A mature and fun way to learn the game.
Chess Scribe: A 50-year Anthology
by David LeMoir publised by Amazon demand. May 2021 (Review #51)
David LeMoir has always been a keen journalist for a variety of national chess magazines and plenty of provincial ones too. Now you might have missed his writings over time but where previously this oversight might never be corrected the joy of self publishing means that a new audience can read his witty, clever and instructional articles. I first read his musings in West of England chess magazines during the 80s but then looked out for his comments in the more obvious titles such as British Chess Magazine and Chess. He is better known to an international audience due to his best selling books How to Become a Deadly Chess Tactician, How to be Lucky in Chess and Essential Chess Sacrifices. The amusing illustrations by his father Ken helped to secure a sound reputation for being insightful but also entertaining. The book has many of his quirky articles such as ” The Day I Almost Beat Michael Adams” where he is being modest as I remember him being a very strong player, often his level being on the verge of 2200 even if maybe his BCF grade was not quite there. If any chess player wants to self publish then this book is an ideal template of how to do it in style.
A glorious collection of chess articles that will keep you entertained and help to improve your rating.
If you wish to purchase a copy then go Amazon in your part of the world For example:
Terrey Shaw- Australian Chess Ironman: Life, games and writings
By Ian Rogers and Ralph Shaw, published by Australian Chess Enterprises May 2021 (Review #50)
A look back at the exception life of an Australian International master who played around the world and was an accomplished chess journalist. He died aged just 51 in 1997 and this is a tribute to him.
I have to point out that I had a hand in getting it published. His brother Ralph a keen amateur player, would always ask people at tournaments for games or old newspaper clippings in the hope he would write a pamphlet one day. This became a standard line when Ralph by now aged in his 70s kept repeating it to me. As my good deed for the year, I suggested we put 10 games into a small magazine just to keep him happy. I mentioned it in an email to Australia’s first grandmaster Ian Rogers who had known Terrey. Instead of replying with the expected annotated game, he came up with one hundred pages of material. This threw me somewhat but that set in motion an exceptional book. The official blurb: “The life, writing and games of Australian chess player Terrey Shaw. From Hong Kong to Canada, from Yugoslavia to the Philippines; Terrey Shaw represented Australia around the world for almost two decades. In this thoughtful and inspiring book grandmaster Ian Rogers commentates on the game offering insight and explanation for every level of player. The numerous photos help to explain the life of a chess player in the 60s, 70s and 80s. His brother Ralph helps to add family memories of someone who died relatively young. Shaw became the first Australian to win a medal at the Chess Olympiad and acquired a reputation as a chess ironman; able to concentrate just as well in the eighth hour of a game as the first. There are general articles by and about Shaw, as well as Shaw’s best games, many with contemporaneous annotations by Shaw’s peers or Shaw himself.” Softback, Limited edition of 500. Softback, 132 pages.
Signed copies available here: https://chess.business/product/terrey-shaw-australian-chess-ironman/
Chess for Educators by Karel Van Delft
published by New In Chess, 272 pages. May 2021 (Review #49)
Why should chess be taught in schools? If you have ever has to answer that question then this book is full of interesting fact and figures to support the game as a way to help someone improve their well being. For instance by decision making, social skills and help to enhance other subjects such as maths, science, history and languages. The issues and problems raised here will resound all over the world. This book did strikingly remind me of the well respected British chess educator Richard James who wrote the book ‘The Right Way to Teach Chess’. Van Delft mentions an article, website and evens a children’s book by James but no mention of the tome similar in nature and it is also omitted in the Bibliography. An oversight or a marketing ploy is not clear but it does not detract from a deep and interesting look at the influence of the game.
An essential tool for chess in schools.
The Lasker Method to improve In Chess by Gerard Welling and Steve Giddens
Published by New In Chess, 240 pages May 2021 (Review #48)
The former World Champion Emanuel Lasker is the latest fashion in the chess writing business. There was a time in recent decades where his contribution to the game was somewhat neglected. However, it has been revived by a number of titles such as Why Lasker Matters by Soltis, Emmanual Lasker- A reader by Kingston while John Nunn’s Chess Course used Lasker’s games to demonstrate a variety of themes. This latest work continues in that tradition with the emphasis on emulating Lasker by using a common sense approach and understanding chess principles. It all sounds so easy and the book is aimed at amateur players who don’t have much time to study. There is a lot of explanation given to plans in the illustrative games which are played by a wide variety of players and not just Lasker. A simple approach to the openings is interesting in that they give a short repertoire that avoids complications and sometimes invites the endgame. They wisely know that keeping up with computer analysis is the preserve of the very keen player so the alternatives will be appealing. Amongst the grandmaster examples there are some snippets from British club player Michael Cook. I think it is a good idea to present some fresh games rather than the tired old examples. After all, you don’t have to be a top expert to defend valiantly bad positions or exploit a good knight versus a bad bishop. I did make the effort to ask Keith Arkell about his game that is included where he unusually plays a Ruy Lopez Exchange. I did expect insight and an explanation of the endgame plans but he had completely forgotten the game. The chapters all have their good points and any studious reader will see a benefit at the board.
Let Lasker be your guide to better chess.
Carlsen’s Neo-Moller by Ionannis Simeonidis
Published by New In Chess, 160 pages. April 2021 (Review #47)
The World Champion gives his seal of approval to an opening and helps to market it. The reality is that most people will not associate Magnus with a line on the black side of the Ruy Lopez but his name does help to sell books. The proposal by the Greek author is to present a repertoire for Black based on 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 and now 5…Bc5. If you know your openings then it is very similar to the Arkhangelsk but you delay moving the b-pawn. I have played it in the past and it is a decent line to avoid the standard openings that White will be aware of such as the Zaitsev. The good thing for the club player is that it invites complications and lots of counterattack opportunities. The downside is you are going to have to remember a lot of variations which Simeonidis supplies.
A good way to combat the Ruy Lopez.
How to Beat Magnus Carlsen by Cyrus Lakdawala
published by New In Chess, 304 pages. April 2021 (Review #46)
How to make the World Champion lose. It is an appealing subject because if we can see the secrets of success on how to defeat Magnus then surely it will help our own game. The reality is that ever since the huge success of Edmar Mednis’s classic How to Beat Bobby Fischer this theme has constantly been repeated. In this case the American author heavily annotates the games to provide entertainment and search for positions that might be instructive for improving players. The great thing about the Fischer book was that it did seem quite an achievement when he lost but nowadays the aura of invincibility of a World Champion has diminished due to the numerous losses on the internet. Admittedly, some might just be one-minute encounters but they are all dissected with brutal assessments.
On social media it has been pointed out that Play Magnus the company started by Carlsen and his business associates have actually bought the publisher New In Chess. Therefore, the rumour is don’t expect a reprint of this book. Well, I doubt that but there is still a lot to like here.
The survival guide to the ultimate chess challenge.
World Champion Chess for juniors by Joel Benjamin
published by New In Chess, 256 pages. March 2021 (Review #45)
A World Champion’s games will help you to learn and improve. The well renowned author is back with a book designed to help juniors to make progress at the board. This is done by selecting all the world champions, dedicating a chapter to each one and then the annotated game will do the job. The obvious flaw with this strategy is that he starts with Paul Morphy, a fellow American but not a World Champion. Of course, his games are full of sacrifices and attacking play so perfect for any young player. An experienced competitor might yawn at yet another game from the Opera but the assumption is that for this audience new to the game it will be a marvel.
The chapters are given headings to make it more interesting so ‘The Endgame authority’ is Capablanca, ‘The master strategist’ is Tigran Petrosian while ‘The master of clarity’ is Bobby Fischer. There are no awards for guessing who ‘The Magician’ refers to but he is running out of catchy themes by the time he reaches Magnus who is curiously referred to as ‘The master of everything and nothing’.
As the intended audience is supposed to be relatively new to books, I was disappointed that large chunks of the games were ignored such as Kasparov’s openings but to be fair a complete game with numerous prose notes would effectively double the size of the book. Still, the games chosen are all classics and the insights that Benjamin points out are instructive
The former US Champion knows how to be successful and expertly passes on his knowledge.
Defend Like Petrosian by Alexey Bezgodov
Bezgodov published by New In Chess , 270 pages. March 2021 (Review #44)
There are no books on defending so I am always told so surely this new title will do well. I tend to counter that argument by mentioning Angus Dunnington’s ‘Defensive Play’ in Everyman’s Starting out series but when this is dismissed I remember Soltis’s ‘The Art of Defense in Chess’, then I mention Jacob Aagarrd’s ‘Practical Chess Defence’ and finally I give up arguing. The problem is that when you lose a game the instinct is buy a book on the opening that has caused the problem or try to improve your attacking skills in order to seize the initiative. It is for this reason that in my experience that books who flaunt their intention to reveal how to defend are slow sellers to say the least. There are plenty of fine tomes masquerading as middlegame books who expertly lend a chapter or two to this subject but the author Bezgodov makes clear his intention. This is to use the games of the ninth World Champion to illustrate the secret of how to play defensively when required. The Armenian star certainly has a treasure trove collection of games to draw upon and it makes for an enjoyable read. There is an agreeable blend of outplaying people from equal positions to examples when stout defence is required. The illustrative games have simple notes and pointers while for the most part computer calculations are kept to a minimum.
Discover the right way to defend like a champion.
The Réti: Move by Move by Sam Collins
published by Everyman Chess, softback 288 pages. February 2021 (Review#43)
Everything you wanted to know about the Réti but were too polite to ask. The renowned Irishman explains why you should play 1 Nf3 and then meet the common response 1…d5 with 2 c4. Of course, he also gives the reader an opening repertoire against other replies having developed the king’s knight and is able to follow the experts such as former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik who gives it his seal of approval. The format of the move by move series is to give some prose explaining what is going on after just about every move in the opening. Therefore, the theme is understanding what to in the early stage of the game and being provided some insight as to what kind of middlegame to aim for after about twenty moves. Collins chooses forty-two high quality games and analyses them in depth to make it easy for the improving player to adopt the Réti.
An opening book that will make a considerable difference.
Rewire Your Chess Brain by Cyrus Lakdawala
published by Everyman Chess, softback 528 pages. January 2021 (Review #42)
A collection of problems and studies to help enhance your playing level. The prolific American author is back again with a new twist on how to improve. The idea is that problems and high-level studies will make you think in a different way and be more creative at the board.
At first, it might seem obscure to look at positions that might not crop up during your typical games but in the long run it does work. I remember as a teenager English grandmaster John Nunn encouraging juniors to analyse chess problems and it can certainly help you to problem solve positions at the board. Lakdawala has a comfortable role in selecting lots of positions many of which are well known but suitable for a new audience. He certainly comes across as being passionate about the subject and makes a great effort to emphasize the point that problem solving can increase your ability.
An enjoyable way to raise your rating
Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual (5th edition)
by Mark Dvoretsky published by Russell Enterprises, softback 440 pages. December 2020 (Review #41)
The Fifth Edition of a modern classic has extra pages and is better than ever. This endgame book is designed for the serious player who wants to know something about every sort of position likely to appear in tournament play.
It can be hard to know what to focus on in such a big book so the distinguished Russian chess coach Mark Dvoretsky made a point of highlighting 220 ‘precise positions’ that he felt that committed players should learn in order to excel. In older volumes, these appear in blue print but over time it was discovered that sometimes the writings were not so clear to read which means that in the latest edition it is in grey which admittedly does look good. This concept of learning critical positions is most evident in the best selling tome ‘100 endings You Must Know’ which has the benefit of sounding easier to accomplish to a reader who is likely to have limited time to study.
The other new thing to look out for are a foreword by former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik where he contemplates all endgames books before stating that this one “…can be called the Bible among them because the material in it is very well structured and explained.” This high praise indeed and the author who sadly died in 2016 had continuously suggested to the publisher slight tweaks to reward the reader experience and these have been incorporated. The German grandmaster Karsten Müller was tasked with the job of writing up new computer analysis and he in turn received feedback from American GM Alex Fishbein. In rook endings it might look similar but there is a greater emphasis on the Vancura position, which is how you can draw when defending rook versus rook and pawn. If it all sounds odd then you need to invest in this great work.
It might take time to study but the improving player will find lots to interest them, even if they examine the occasional chapter and it is bound to help increase their rating.
A bundle of joy for any endgame enthusiast.
The 2021 International Chess Calendar
by Taylor Kingston published by Russell Enterprises. The dimensions are 30.5 cm x 23 cm or 12 inches wide and 9 inches high. November 2020 (Review #40)
Have you ever wondered if a famous chess master was born on the same day as you? The 2021 Chess Calendar is the perfect place for all things chess and a good way to forget 2020. Each month highlights events in the chess world which took place 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago. In addition, each day of the year presents dates of birth and death of prominent players and other important figures, as well as major tournaments and matches.
Now if you win a brilliant game and were born on the 9th November you might have the spirit of Tal guiding you. Then again, if you have a tendency to relentlessly play a long, dull rook and pawn ending then it is no surprise that you share your birthday on the 8th January with Keith Arkell. There are of course, many famous British names to look out for amongst the dates. There is a photo for each month of a chess celebrity such as World Champions: Alekhine, Botvinnik, Capablanca, Euwe, Fischer and Kasparov. Archival monochrome photographs along with noteworthy games and chess trivia round out this popular calendar. My only quibble would be that I am not keen to spend March staring at the infamous picture of Alekhine, dead but propped up in a chair for a photo opportunity.
An interesting chess gift that can be highly recommended.
Timman Triumphs- my 100 Best Games
by Jan Timman, published by New In Chess, 350 pages. Available in softback and hardcover. October 2020 (Review #39)
The Dutch grandmaster reveals one hundred games that mean the most to him. There are an amazing number of famous names which should be expected from one of the world’s elite players. The analysis is as you would expect sound and he points out that some games have been dismissed from his thoughts because the computer has found too many mistakes.
His approach is rather old school because he rarely gossips about opponents and avoids revealing anything particularly scandalous. This is in sharp contrast to another New in Chess publication The Best I saw In Chess by Stuart Rachels but then again everyone is different so we have to respect the Dutchman his wishes not to rock the chess establishment too much. A curious feature is that Timman seems to have a fixation on the quality of his accommodation during tournaments. For instance: “…stayed in the Hotel Cervantes. It was cold there at nights, because, as in many hotels in the Spanish countryside, the rooms are not heated” while a tournament in Teesside, England includes the line “We stayed in a Golf & Country club outside of town.” The 1980 Olympiad in Malta was not good enough as “The Dutch chess federation had arranged apartments for us that were situated far outside of town.” We then hear the exciting details of how instead he stays in a hotel called The British for the cheap cost of 10 guilders a night and the reader quickly realises that Timman must really love Tripadvisor reviews.
The real test though is whether the notes to the game are exceptional and it is here that the author ticks all the boxes because he explains things in a clear and concise manner, while comments on the opening are sensibly linked to knowledge of the line when the game was played. English grandmaster Raymond Keene makes an unlikely cameo appearance during 1976 as a music critic when they listen to Frank Zappa’s Overnite Sensation album. “The modern American language is very similar to Old English ‘, Keene remarked after listening to songs like Camarillo Brillo and Dinah Moe Hum” The impression is that this is seen as an incredible insight (incidentally they apparently stayed in Hotel Holt) but I am not so sure. After all, in another part of the book Timman admits dabbling with drugs “I did stash a small piece of hashish in the vest pocket” which might alarm some people but for anybody from Holland it would hardly merit a shrug.
I really enjoyed the book and Timman does come across a starry crowd of opponents and fellow tournament players. It is a shame that the only photos that appear are on the front cover because there must be plenty of images featuring such famous names.
A joyous way to absorb 100 chess lessons.
How to Become a Candidate Master
by Alex Dunne published by New In Chess, 270 pages. October 2020 (Review #38)
The aim is to improve 1800 rated chess players (150 if you have an old ECF grade) with the help of typical games played at that level. There are 52 games that are heavily annotated with the emphasis on using words to describe what is going on rather than endless variations.
A curious feature is that the games feature no names but just a rating to indicate what level you are at that point. There are in fact taken from 1982 US tournament games because the book was originally printed in 1985. The latest edition is needed to mention modern names such as Magnus Carlsen and say that certain openings are popular amongst players such as Aronian to make it more contemporary. The twist is that the amateur games contain plenty of mistakes or quickly diverge from main opening lines arguably making them more accessible to club players. Dunne’s qualities are that he makes it easy to read and offers a wealth of tips.
It is absorbing and challenging enough to take you to the next level.
A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns
by Vladimir Barsky, published by New In Chess, 256 pages. September 2020 (Review #37)
A puzzle book where the aim is always checkmate. The tried and tested formula of solving problems from real life games is still one of the easiest things to do that improves your tactical chances.
There are 850 standard puzzles where you have to find the checkmate and then look up the answer when you can’t make progress. I like it that Barsky has made the effort to select games where the answer is not obvious so it is not always the outrageous queen sacrifice that leads to checkmate. Each chapter has a discussion on mating patterns with titles such as Rook and Bishop, Queen and Knight and The Queen it is all very straightforward.
The modern examples mean that there are lots familiar names compared to the popular but old Fred Reinfeld books. Another difference compared to the old puzzle classics is that these examples have been computer checked to make sure there is only one solution.
A fun way to instantly improve.
Adolf Anderssen Combinative Chess Genius
by Robert Johnson published by Clark & Mackay, hardback 353 pages. Available in the UK from https://chessbooks.co.uk/, In Australia try https://www.chessaustralia.com.au/index.cfm?p=detail&o=9780646816142
September 2020 (Review #36)
An historic coffee table book that would impress any chess player. This impressive and heavy tome (1.7kg, 22 x 30cm)) is a self-published work by an Australian author who has long admired the German master (1818-79) famous for his Immortal game and Evergreen game.
This mammoth task of investigating Anderssen, selecting games and sourcing material began in 1993. This job was aided by some top Australian chess historians who were only too happy to encourage an amateur chess player and full time sheep farmer to fulfil his dreams. Johnson has managed to source 36 photos including 3 colours ones of his grave which help to add some background to the games by being able to see what his opponents looked like or for instance where he studied.
If I have to quibble it is not using ChessBase to produce the diagrams which is standard in modern books and instead opting to use some from a web site called apronus which use grey and white squares. It looks a bit odd. The eighty annotated games use analysis from another era and only occasionally does the author feel the need to present his own assessment. A compelling read and with a print run of only 204 copies it is bound to sell out.
A treasure trove of brilliance.
Hein Donner- The Biography
by Alexander Münninghoff, published by New In Chess, 272 pages. September 2020 (Review #35)
Donner was a maverick Dutch grandmaster and a top writer. He is an icon in Holland where his witty columns made him famous because he loved to wind up other players. In cricket, you might call it sledging and nowadays in online chess videos they call it banter but Hein Donner (1927-88) was a pioneer in the chess world for provoking people.
A good reference is his anthology called The King which features 30 years of his writings and is very well regarded. Münninghoff manages the neat trick of revealing more about Donner than his chess public would know and also making it exciting by moving from one incident to another as the grandmaster took on authority at almost every opportunity. He had ailing health throughout his life which most people assumed was his chain smoking but a doctor told him “… his brain had been receiving only ten percent of the normal supply of blood” His reply was the ultimate trump card that can only be used by a top chess player “ But doctor, with ten percent I beat Bobby Fischer. How would I have been with one hundred percent”.
A glorious life that was interrupted by high level chess games and writings galore.
A remarkable insight into another chess era and a chance to understand a rebellious player.
Arkell’s Endings by Keith Arkell
published by GingerGM, 168 pages. Reviewed August 2020 (Review #34)
The art of winning endgames when you have a slight edge or even an equal position is expertly explored in 33 games.
The British grandmaster has a reputation for never giving up when he has a chance to play an ending and to find a way to consistently crank up the pressure. The promise of finding out the secret of his success will rightly tempt many readers. In the foreword another endgame maestro Jonathan Speelman offers some canny insights “Strong endgame play demands underlying knowledge, precise calculation, good nerves to keep yourself together for hours on end and, above all, patience.” He awards Arkell all of these traits and it makes sense that you have to have good endgame knowledge to have the nerves to grind someone down for over 100 moves.
In the 80’s I had first-hand experience of Keith’s knowledge of endgame books at Hastings where I had adjourned and was annoyed that the game was heading for a draw. Over dinner he insisted on seeing the position and I pointed out that I was about to have only two knights versus a king and pawn as I could not avoid my opponent sacrificing his final knight for my spare pawn. He instantly declared it was winnable and helped with the midnight analysis. Sure enough, I was able to carry on despite my opponent furiously claiming to the arbiter it was dead drawn and after 11 hours of play I won. This is probably the key to winning such games and a love of endings is evident throughout this absorbing book.
I would also highly recommend it to opponents of Keith on the British weekend circuit as he is quite revealing on his likes and dislikes in the opening. He is particularly keen on pawn formations such as the Carlsbad Structure which is when his c-pawn is absent and black’s e-pawn is missing after a capture on d5 which often occurs in 1 d4 d5 openings. However, the ‘Arkell Hierarchy of Pawns’ offers a shortcut guide on how to handle the pawns in most endings which can help with forming a plan. I like the fact that the thirty-three games are complete because although the opening is usually rushed over with a few comments, it is still interesting to see how the endgame position arises. In some of the games his precise technique slowly but surely destroys his opponent. Speelman mentions a need to “…develop this ophidian skill” which is to be snake like such as a python to squeeze the life out of any position. There are times when there is not much surprise that Keith’s torment of a player has resulted in a victory as he is the higher rated player but every game has something to offer for those who want to wrangle every opportunity from a seemingly quiet position.
It is a nice touch for the rest of us that one of the world’s elite players does exactly the same to the author and the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the one to teach him a lesson and inflict his only loss in the book.
Simon Williams contributes a chapter as a tribute to his friend using some old examples to demonstrate his tactical prowess. I was especially keen on the game against GM Julian Hodgson as I published it a few months after it had been played during 1996 in my book A Guide to Attacking Chess. However, as I read William’s comments it dawned on me that the game had already been covered by Keith in his only other book Arkell’s Odyssey. Simon does not mention any of Arkell’s analysis or quotes but uses the computer to point out that the spectacular looking game is not as accurate as once thought. He is particularly keen to emphasis that in the great British tradition, Keith is a sociable friend who can often be found at tournaments drinking at the bar. There are plenty of photos to illustrate chess friends and family which is a nice touch.
Arkell has the knack of passing on his passion for the endgame in an easy to read style. His wisdom and quirky insights would help any reader to improve their game.
A clear contender for book of the year
The Best I Saw in Chess by Stuart Rachels published by New In Chess, 416 pages. Reviewed August 2020 (Review #33)
A US Champion celebrates a collection of his best games and explains why he mysteriously walked away from the chessboard aged just 23. This is a really absorbing read because Rachels played games against the elite but with hindsight can be reflective and honest about the people he met. In 1993 he left the game but older and wiser he can be more revealing allowing the reader to have access to the gossip and whispers about famous players that are normally never published.
At the tender age of 14 he did a chess tour of the UK which was certainly an eye opener for the teenager. At Brighton 1983, a drunk Nigel Short stumbled into him which didn’t hurt but made him feel uncomfortable. He adds that his roommate David Norwood, who was 15 tried to encourage him to join him at the bar but he declined. It should be added that he later became friends with Nigel so things worked out. I remember catching a train with Rachels from Ramsgate to Liverpool Street station. When we arrived, he was rather excited and wanted to do some local sight-seeing which seemed odd as the area at the time was a bit run down. I soon realised that I had a superior knowledge of the origins of The Beatles. A long time after the event I did ask who was supposed to be looking after him but in that era, parents relied on other players from the USA in the event of an emergency, which would surely not be recommended nowadays. He spent some time at the World quarter finals in London and has pen portraits of the famous players he met. An effort is made throughout the book to make it accessible for club players by using the games as a way of demonstrating ways to improve so chapter titles such as Double Check and If only I were Tal give an indication of what to expect.
I particularly like his revealing anecdotes which are rather brutal such as his experiences with GM Roman Dzindzichashvili who “…was not known for his ethics.” We hear a tale about the GM asking a friend for $200 to be wired due to a broken leg in Minneapolis but the money going instead to Atlantic City which is better known for its casinos. A trend of Dzindz was to ask ‘investors’ for money in advance and if he won prize money at the event, they received extra money in return. He had a lot of investors and apparently seldom won. When Rachels was aged 15, Dzindz asked his parents if Stuart was prepared to throw a game in the last round and as his dad was the Chair of the US Federation’s Ethics Committee you can guess the answer.
In 1991-93 he is back in the UK and attended Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship to study philosophy, which allowed him to play in the famous varsity match against Cambridge. After his victory in 1992 Ray Keene asked him to annotate the game for his spectator column. He wrote one particular long, awkward sentence “….I was surprised to read that exact sentence in his column! Who would’ve suspected that the 44-year-old Brit cribbed that sentence off a 22 year-old American?“ It is packed with similar stories throughout making it a delight to read. The games are entertaining and the annotations always informative. I highly recommend this title.
An inside account of the chess world aided by a collection of instructive games.
Mastering Positional Sacrifices by Merijn van Delft, published by New In Chess, 320 pages. Reviewed August 2020 (Review #32)
The question of when to sacrifice material is never easy but here is a practical guide. The intended audience is above beginner and I would say any club player would benefit from the author’s passion for the subject. I like the fact that the complete games come with prose that explains the opening which is so often overlooked by experienced players. However, most people don’t have an inside knowledge of dozens of different lines so a few words of explanation is a good thing and makes it seem more instructive. The themes that are covered involves things like exchange sacrifices where the aim to not to win material but dominate certain squares, boost an attack and other positional ideas. An obvious pawn sacrifice that most people can understand is the King’s Gambit where a pawn is given up for centre pawns and rapid development. This is a good excuse to explore the idea in various openings such as the Benko Gambit and Marshall Gambit where are explored in the book under the chapter heading Typical pawn sacrifices. As usual van Delft expertly expands on the subject to make it sound extremely interesting and as a potential way to improve your rating overnight. The only time when I think he is pushing it too far is when he is discussing computers. An AlphaZero games from 2018 features a baffling rook move which makes no sense to me or the author as he writes “Computer chess can be really strange. The rook returns to the square it just came from, without any particular reason.” If it needs such an explanation then the game is flawed as a ditched example and should be ditched in favour of something else. I really like the book because it offers insight with excellent examples and enough explanation to enable the reader to improve.
This will have a major impact on your positional progress.
In the Zone by Cyrus Lakdawala, published by New In Chess, 400 pages. Reviewed August 2020 (Review #31)
Great chess players who have dominated prestigious tournaments are “in the zone” when achieving their success. The prolific American author has the clever idea of looking at thirteen players who have excelled at events starting with Morphy and ending with Magnus Carlsen at Grenke Classic 2019. This is a good excuse to look once again at Fischer’s stunning victory at the 1963/64 US Championship with 11/11 and every game is examined to find a link why Fischer dominated. It is worth reminding readers that Lakdawala has his own style when writing which his numerous followers love but others hate. For instance: when discussing the fear factor of elite players he adds “Do you remember the old Star Trek episode of the malevolent entity which snuck aboard the USS Enterprise and which physically sustained its nourishment from fear in crew members?” Well, this sort of thing crops up quite a lot and the banter style can be illuminating or irritating depending on your point of view. There are obvious chapters to make sure greats such as Tal and Kasparov are included but there is also space for Pillsbury’s success at Hastings 1895. The chapter headline for Alekhine’s domination at Bled 1931 is Thunderbolts and Lightning, Very, Very Frightening. Although, not explained I would give you a gold star if you guessed along with me it was a joke associated with the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody. There is an attempt in every chapter to explain why the player was at the peak of his powers and if there are numerous games then a few are selected to emphasise his prowess.
A book that makes you think.
Sultan Khan by Daniel King, published by New In Chess, 384 pages in paperback and hardback. Reviewed July 2020 (Review #30)
Sultan Khan arrives in England from India in 1929 becomes British Champion , beats Capablanca and disappears from the chess scene in 1933. This tale sounds more like a movie with a likeable character triumphant over all the odds. A foreword by Viswanathan Anand is a seal of approval and he compares himself to a certain degree with Sultan Khan being an Asian pioneer. A keen student of chess history would know about the book ‘Mir Sultan Khan’ by R.N.Coles published in 1966 which seems to have been ever present on book stalls. In a recent ChessBase interview King told Sagar Shah “In 2013, I was contacted by a theatre director who was interested in the story and asked me to do a little research for him.“ This inspired him to start finding out more about the chess career of someone who grew up on Indian chess and only absorbed Western chess rules a few years before his trip to Europe which explained his poor openings. Then again, interest in the great man has always been around with snippets in a variety of history books detailing his success, a Channel 4 documentary in 1990 included various people who had known him such as one of his sons and fellow people on his trip to Europe such as Miss Fatima. More recently, in 2003 a Russian book Kometa Sultan-Khana by A. Matsukevich was produced and the Internet means it is easier to source material from old newspapers and magazines. Therefore, the biggest surprise is that King’s work is the first in English for some time to update the amazing story and instantly become a chess bestseller. I suspect the reluctance of other writers to take on the task is that chess historians tend to frown on active players taking on such projects because the arduous task of researching primary sources, normally does not justify the money paid to write the book. King did his stint at the British Library looking for new information or simply seeking out contemporary reports on tournaments. My own experience of being asked to write about a famous player is typical in that his widow was more than pleased to give me exclusive photos and inside information. However, the rest of the family disputed facts and it was not long before they wanted a share of the royalties, so the book was abandoned. Daniel had a similar problem with his project whether to contact the relatives or remain independent. He chose the latter but the chess boom in India has pushed his publication on to the front page of newspapers who were eager to remind their readers of such a successful Asian pioneer. This attracted the attention of Khan’s granddaughter Dr Atiyab Sultan who obtained her PhD at Cambridge University and is an officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service. She pointed out he was not stateless as he was a member of the British Empire from 1903-47 and then a Pakistani citizen from 47 until his death in 66. She goes on to complain about a number of items particularly his status. King has argued his case in New In Chess(4) magazine but of course the publicity has increased sales. The controversy will rage on but nothing can dispute that this is a magnificent book, which is a fine tribute to someone who seemingly emerged from nowhere to win the British Championships three times, take on the world’s best players and seemingly disappear from the chess world. The games are annotated in a high-class manner as you would expect from the English grandmaster and there is always a lot of prose to give a background to the event. King does quote the television documentary to repeat Miss Fatima’s comments that he was homesick and wanted to get back to his family. Khan contrary to some reports did carry on with chess and played a 1935 match against Khadilkar winning 9 games and drawing one. After that he seemed to play friendly games and returned to normal life, although he did a simultaneous display in 1955, no tournaments were entered. There are plenty of photos to remind us of another era.
A remarkable chess career captured in the style of a gripping novel.
On the Origin of Good Moves by Willy Hendricks published by New In Chess, 432 pages. Reviewed July 2020, (Review #29)
What can historic masters teach us about modern chess? Hendricks understands that a good way to improve is to look at the games of former champions but argues we should be selective in which lessons the promising player should absorb. If you did not get the joke of the book title being similar to the famous text Origin of the Species, there is a chimp on the cover and later a photo of the author Charles Darwin with the chapter headline Revolution or evolution. It is here that the theme is expanded “There are some resemblances between Darwinian evolution and improvement in chess. In particular, the important role of competition springs to mind.” The front cover boasts the subtitle “A skeptic’s Guide to Getting Better at Chess” which must have been approved by the British editor and typesetter Ian Kingston. Then again, the use of the American spelling of sceptic is not really consistent with the rest of the book and is slightly odd but not the end of the world. It is certainly a quirky book with the first chapter featuring games by Greco from about 400 years ago. The author does pull off the neat trick of making it relevant to players of today by for example demonstrating an opening trick that has stood the test of time. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that the chapter on Philidor features the opening in his name and how it has evolved. This is expertly done with a game between Spassky-Jussupow but I was a touch disappointed to see him write that he had copied the game from the book “…Winning Chess Manoeuvres by Sarhan Guliev, which has as a main theme the way in which strong players ‘borrow’ their ideas from the past.” Well, he ticks a box for honesty and follows it up with a game by Aronian where it is argued that a delayed Philidor set-up is employed. The idea of great names such as Morphy, Lasker, and Steinitz influencing the modern game is an interesting discussion that keeps the reader curious for the next chapter. There are exercises at the beginning of each chapter and has a user friendly approach which will help your middlegame. A sprinkling of photos helps us to picture some the old but famous names.
An accomplished way to improve.
Beyond Material by Davorin Kuljasevic
published by New In Chess, 336 pages. Reviewed June 2020 (Review #28)
The art of sacrificing material is explored in depth.
This promising idea is given a twist by examining entertaining games where the attacker is not bothered about recouping material but simply maintains the compensation.
The Croatian grandmaster demonstrates that material balance is not so important when you factor in things like tempo, initiative, a threat and an attack. There are also a variety of test exercises to see if you can come up with a decent sacrifice that will ensure an advantage not based on material but other factors such as mobility, harmony, outposts and favourable structures. It sounds like hard work but Kuljasevic has a knack of presenting absorbing material whether it be a king hunt or another example of Carlsen or Kasparov’s impressive play.
It will inspire you when sacrificing and make you think clearer.
Keep It Simple 1 d4 by Christof Sielecki
published by New In Chess, 432 pages. Reviewed May 2020 (Review #27)
An opening repertoire is a simple but effective way of improving your winning chances. It might seem easier to use your computer to find the best moves and improve your openings. However, it takes lots of time and if you are older there are lots of distractions, while if younger it is a difficult life balance to shorten the hours spent on perfecting the art of winning Fortnite. The best repertoires are the ones where you can play the basics without too much thought and the author does the right thing by suggesting a solid set-up as White by putting forward the key moves 1 d4 2 Nf3 3 g3 4 Bg2 5 0-0 and then usually 6 c4. There is no intention to overwhelm the keen player with endless computer analysis but with over 400 pages he is happy to go into some detail. There is plenty of prose to describe the plans and ambitions for White. This should come as no surprise to those who follow Sielecki on his popular social media pages while his YouTube channel ChessExplained has over 30,000 followers. His thing is to play 5 minute games and give an insight behind the moves rather than make fun, banter comments and he normally wins with seconds left on the clock. I have to make clear that you are not going to enjoy wild attacking games and win with sacrifices that come so naturally in some lines of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. This book is dedicated to those who want a slight edge and a no risk middlegame. The Catalan is promoted which of course makes sense if you are aiming for an early kingside fianchetto. The games are well explained and the author has a knack of spreading encouragement with wise words.
An opening repertoire that will make a positive difference to your rating
Emanuel Lasker- A Reader by Taylor Kingston
published by Russell Enterprises, 400 pages. Reviewed May 2020 (Review #26)
A chance to see the collected writings of a former World Champion. The aim is to spread the word about Lasker by going through old articles and books to give annotated games by him and other ideas about chess. This seems a worthy cause now that Emanuel (1868-1941) is back in fashion as recent books such as Why Lasker Matters by American grandmaster Andrew Soltis. This might explain why he gives the forward and interestingly compares the great man to Magnus Carlsen. He states “The emphasis on calculation – on finding the flaws in moves based on intuition or principle- is the Lasker quality that all elite players rely on today.” The good news is that the moves have been changed to algebraic notation so they are easy to follow and although some comments sound rather quaint there are enough memorable lines that will prove to be a boost for any improving player. It does a good job revealing Lasker to a new audience.
An entertaining way to see inside the mind of a World Champion.
The Complete Chess Swindler
by David Smerdon published by New In Chess, 368 pages.
Reviewed on 4 April 2020 (Review #25)
So you don’t want to lose a game of chess? If you are about to resign the Australian author is urging you to pause and start to think of a way to salvage the situation allowing you to successful swindle your opponent. There have been a variety of books on such a theme in the past and an obvious one is England’s Ali Mortazavi who in the 90s had The Fine Art of Swindling published by Cadogan. The old book made much of using game examples where a lost position is revived by a cunning combination and this theme is replicated in Smerdon’s work.
The big difference is that the latest tome has over 300 pages to illustrate ideas such as psychology, the ‘Trojan Horse’, ‘The decoy trap’, ‘the berserk attack’ ‘window-ledging’ and gamesmanship amongst many others. In my own experience, over the past decade I just get the impression that nobody resigns early anymore because people are so used to saving blitz games on the internet that they feel convinced that a piece down in a long game is not the end of the world. In reality, it is usually does dictate the result but with increasingly fast time-limits it is surely the threat or misery of endless increment moves that forces the current crop of errors. Smerdon is an excellent online player and has managed to save numerous normal games at tournaments but understands longer time limits requires a practical approach.
There are plenty of games with interesting notes where one player manages to escape a lost position. However, some of them just see the player on top playing badly rather than being lured into a trap. In the game Carlsen-Giri, Wijk aan Zee 2017, the World Champion missed a three move checkmate and Smerdon writes “I’m not sure if Giri had also missed this, or instead had seen it and decided it was still worth the gamble . If the latter, then his swindle deserves even more kudos.” In fact, there is no need to read Giri’s mind because such a famous game is instantly reported on and there are numerous chess articles explaining what happened with New In Chess magazine (2/2017) mentioning that Giri had missed the checkmate and then cheekily said at the press conference “This is the most embarrassing moment in the chess career of Magnus Carlsen.“ It is a small detail but it does not distract from an absorbing read that will provide inspiration for any player who wants to start the great escape when losing.
An enjoyable way to discover the secret of rescuing bad positions.
Mental Toughness in Chess
by Werner Schweitzer, published by New In Chess, 144 pages.
Reviewed on 4 April 2020 (Review #24)
The need to think straight and be alert is a neglected area and the Austrian author offers to become your mental coach. The theme is a good idea because I am sure all us have asked for background information on a player such as whether they drift into time-trouble or are regarded an attacking player. I think chess players might not think about improving their mental approach but we do it all the time without contemplating it seriously. A healthy mind equals a healthy mind has been the mantra of many top players and Schweitzer joins in by suggesting eating nuts during the game. There are 41 chapter headings but this nugget came from one called Proper Nutrition where he writes that ”…nuts have a strong impact on both your brain activity and your mood’.
Interestingly, no mention is made about bananas and any spectator at the British Championship last year in Torquay could not help but notice that the start of each round resembled a fruit stall. I have always liked these types of books whether it be the excellent Chess Psychology by Angus Dunnington or the superb practical guide on how to be clever at the board contained in Chess for Tigers by Simon Webb. There are times when the advice of Schweitzer sounds like the sort of thing you hear in the analysis room of a weekend tournament, sensible but not practical. It might be a good idea to improve your posture and control your breathing but it is another thing to achieve it. The author has a rating of around 2100 so understands the chess world but often the tips are similar to opinion from a previous chapter but I guess that is just one of those things and perhaps it is designed to reinforce good behaviour. The chapter on Learning from Magnus Carlsen is an example of this when one of the conclusions is “Be aware of your strengths, and arrange your game according to your strengths.”
A fun book with simple but amusing chess cartoons.
Attacking with g2-g4
by Dmitry Kryakvin, published by New In Chess, 288 pages.
Reviewed on 4 April 2020 (Review #23)
The secret to upsetting your opponent is to make an outrageous pawn advance g2-g4 when they least expect it. It does sound like a limited topic and after all g4 has been played in various openings over the years, so the concept is not exactly new. However, the Russian author picks out topical lines in the Dutch, the English, King’s Indian, Nimzo-Indian, Queen’s Gambit and the Slav to illustrate his point. As a collection of interesting games, the book excels and complete examples with comments are insightful.
The trend for picking attacking motifs associated with g4 means that there is usually an onslaught to admire which makes things more entertaining. It turns out that the author is a big fan of former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik and in the introduction tries to link the idea of a bold pawn venture g2-g4 with some of his opening innovations. At first the connection seems tenuous but to give credit to Kryakvin he makes a convincing case. I am not sure if the actual title of the book is going to persuade any impulse buyers but surely the sequel will be Attacking with h2-h4, the AlphaZero way.The translation is done by England’s Steve Giddens.
An absorbing lesson on how to conduct a powerful attack in the opening with g2-g4.
Memorable Games of British Chess
by Neil Hickman, published by Amazon, 272 pages.
Reviewed on 4 April 2020 (Review #22)
The trend for self-publishing sees another impressive debut by a keen amateur player. There are quite a few players who wistfully think that in their retirement they can get around to writing that perfect chess book but realistically the audience tends to be friends and families. I think Wymondham chess club member Neil Hickman deserves a gold star for producing a decent and entertaining book that brings together ninety classic British games ranging from the year 1788 right up until 2016. A few more recent games might have been added but for a poignant need to get the book published as a friend who proved to be a great source of encouragement was gravely ill.
There are games by the pioneers of elite British chess such as Keene, Harston, Miles, Penrose and Stean. I particularly liked to be reminded of the 1947 encounter Crown-Kotov which is often mentioned by Leonard Barden in his columns. The reason being that the 18 year old Gordon Crown was considered a shooting star in the chess scene after coming third in the British Championships. The achievement of smashing Alexander Kotov who came second in the USSR championships was a sign of a bright future but Crown died prematurely extinguishing a great British hope. The notes to the games are often aided by borrowing the original player’s own comments from a variety of books and magazines. This makes it more satisfying and Hickman rightly avoids proving endless analysis from Fritz 17 in a vain effort to find the truth in the position. Instead, snippets of calculation are sandwiched between quotes and a background story concerning the British player and the significance of the encounter.
A really fun, instructive and entertaining book to enjoy when you need a bit of chess inspiration.
by Mark Dvoretsky, published by Russell Enterprises, paperback, 208 pages.
Reviewed on 2 February 2020 (Review #21)
The famous chess trainer sadly died in 2016 but his legacy continues with a new book. He left behind a couple of unpublished manuscripts and this one has been polished up and a foreword has been added by his former pupil, grandmaster Artur Yusupov. The theme is to provide numerous diagrams discussing a positional idea or more obviously a tactic. Once you have tried to look for an answer, one can look up a solution.
The difference compared to the average puzzle books is that the author gives not only the right moves, but adds a narrative explain what is going on in the position and a few other variations to give a complete picture of the position. An assessment on what aspects of the game that are covered is revealed in the chapter headings such as ‘candidate moves’, ‘calculating variations’ and ‘realizing an advantage’.
Dvorestsky apparently wanted to bring together the best examples he had collected over the years to remind the reader of an idea by using an entertaining game and he achieves the aim. This means that it is the ideal way to reinforce standard strategies and tactics by reading with pleasure for a short time whenever you need inspiration.
A puzzle rush for experienced players who want to improve.
Kaufman’s New Repertoire for Black and White
by Larry Kaufman, published by New In Chess, paperback, 464 pages.
Reviewed on 2 February 2020 (Review #20)
A new edition that offers the club player an opening repertoire against just about everything. A curious thing is in the introduction where Kaufman spends some time reminding the reader of his very respectable credentials. I can only assume someone from the younger generation doesn’t know their history because having to heavily promote your career in your own book is unusual. He is the oldest active GM in the USA at age 72 and was part of the team that created MacHack, a computer that had a chess rating in 1967.
The latter might explain why he goes on and on about which chess programmes he has used to evaluate positions but a line such as “if Komodo MCTS strongly prefers a move that is only slightly below Lc0, or if Lc0 seems to be blind to some feature of the position or to a perpetual check…”is informative but rather dull. This is understandable as he wishes to demonstrate the effort involved but such talk tends to date and anybody who picks up a book that boasts that Fritz 7 has been used will know what I mean.
His recommendation for White is 1 e4 and he tries to offers two variations for readers apparently in case of one of them does not stand the test of time or future computer analysis. It is always a tricky thing to present a decent repertoire but the author insists that every effort has been made to choose lines that do not date rapidly and are easy to learn for masters or amateurs. I rather like his side-line against the Sicilian Najdorf 1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 Nc6 5 Qd2 intending b3, Bb2 and queenside castling. He points out it has a decent pedigree with even Magnus Carlsen adopting it for a victory in 2018. His main openings for 1 e4 e5 are the Italian or the Spanish with 6 d3 which have similar pawn structures and are once again sound choices. If you have the Black pieces he suggests meeting 1 d4 with the Grünfeld Defence while against the English the answer to 1 c4 is 1…g6 hoping to transpose to the main defence. After 1 e4 he suggests 1…e5 and takes on the Spanish with the Marshall Attack which is a lot of fun but can be complicated.
The choice of opening for the club player is difficult to get right but Kaufman does an outstanding job.
An opening repertoire that will make a positive difference to your rating.
The Chess Scene
by Alan Ruffle, self-published by Amazon, paperback, 168 pages
Reviewed on 2 February 2020 (Review #19)
There are times that every chess player dreams of writing their own book and club player Alan Ruffle has shown the way forward by making it become reality. It is obviously easier for master players to secure a publishing contract but there is no reason why everyone can contemplate passing on their wisdom now that Amazon can publish on demand.
The idea is to give a few pointers to new and improving chess players but naturally the author cannot resist with a bit of a background story. Therefore, we hear about his parents and how he discovered the charm and passion of the game. There is some insight into how to improve and lots of common sense advice. The various illustrative games played by Ruffle indicate the pain and peril of the typical encounter and the occasional win to make it all worthwhile. As an ECF arbiter and coach he can draw upon his experiences in the field to give a few ideas on how best to teach people and occasionally shares the different viewpoint of the arbiter.
I think the book is a clear indication of the possibilities of self-publishing via Amazon. The diagrams could be slightly improved but otherwise I think most people could not spot the difference between this and a major chess publisher.
An entertaining view of the world of English club chess and coaching.
300 Most Important Chess Positions
by Thomas Engqvist, published by Batsford, 302 pages
Reviewed on 18 July 2019 (Review #18)
A fun way of improving your chess level. The simple idea is to take 300 positions and then add some commentary highlighting an important aspect of play. It does work surprisingly well as you wonder at the positional ideas that can transform a game. These have to be spectacular so a knight retreating to its original square in order to relocate is a classic but the Swedish author continues to impress with fine examples.
There are chapter headings for such issues as The Minority Attack’’ and the “Kingside Attack’’ but endgames are also well covered. If I had to quibble on anything is that the examples tend to be rather dated but then again Alekhine and Fischer can still teach a new generation how to intensify the pressure.
An entertaining way to quickly improve your rating.
1001 Chess Exercises for Club Players
by Frank Erwich, published by New in Chess, 192 pages
Reviewed on 22 June 2019 (Review #17)
The twist is that the chess puzzles are sandwiched between helpful chapters that aim to improve your understanding of tactics. Nowadays, people online are indulging in ‘puzzle rush’’ where you aim to complete numerous chess problems as quickly as possible. It can be great to see Nakamura on video churning out winning combinations while lesser know players seem to try and memorize all the puzzles to record a record time. A more sedate form of this game is to take your time to absorb the 999 puzzles on offer from the Dutch author who provides sensible chapter headings such as Elimination of the Defence, ‘Skewer‘, and Trapping a piece’.
The idea is that an introduction is provided for each chapter by the use of illustrative games to discuss the theme and provide some insight as to what to look out for in an effort to improve your own game. I did notice that in this section a point was made to provide the elo ratings of the players. This tends to be generated by Chessbase but does seem rather pointless as does it matter that we now know that Nigel Short was rated 2666 in 2016 or that Caruana was 2799 at St Louis in 2017 but 2782 at Paris in 2017? I think it looks daft, dates the book and should be edited out. The idea of engaging in chess puzzles to make you sharper is hardly a new idea but I like the approach Erwich adopts and this tome will help pleasantly to past the time of day while commuting to work or on the beach while enjoying a holiday.
A modern puzzle rush for a new generation of book lovers.
The 100 Endgames You Must Know WORKBOOK
by Jesus De La Villa, published by New in Chess, 288 pages
Reviewed on 22 June 2019 (Review #16)
A sequel to a best-selling endings book that is bound to appeal to a wide audience. The marketing might of New In Chess meant that the 100 Endgames You Must Know was a huge success with it being constantly reprinted. One could argue that something like Practical Chess Endings is more complete but the catchy title of 100 helped the modern title to soar to the top of the book charts.
This follow up title looks at further practical examples with a bright, breezy style that is appealing and instructive. The chapter headings such as ‘Queen vs pawn’, ‘Rook vs pawn’ and ‘Pawn endings’ are geared for club players who are likely to encounter such obvious examples in their own games. After explanation of various themes there are practical exercises to test your knowledge. After going through all 300 of them a studious student is bound to improve.
The right way to enhance your endgame technique.
Devoted to Chess: The Creative Heritage of Yuri Razuvaev
by Boris Postovsky, published by New in Chess, 314 pages
Reviewed on 4 May 2019 (Review #15)
A celebration of the Russian grandmaster by looking at his creative games, interviewing an eminent list of pupils he trained and various other bits and pieces.
The one thing that really strikes home is how well-liked Yuri Razuvaev was by famous names that he had helped guide to success such as Gelfand, Karpov and Kramnik. Boris Spassky recalled recommending him to coach aspiring French players upon meeting a generous sponsor and the interesting anecdotes work well due to the numerous black & white photos. The large games collection is a useful reminder that Razuvaev introduced a number of key opening ideas that were copied by a mass of players, so that the original games were largely forgotten. Here with notes by numerous elite commentators and by Razuvaev himself the star quality is obvious and the opponents impressive.
The author Postovsky also selects extracts of Razuvarv’s work to convey how much insight he could explain to even the casual reader with the help of instructive examples and persuasive prose. There is also some analysis of the benefits of solving composed problems to facilitate calculation rather than leave everything to the computer. A poignant collection of memories from Razuvaev’s contemporaries wraps up the final chapters and makes you miss this special person who clearly had a profound influence on his fellow players.
A welcome tribute to an influential grandmaster. I think that ambitious players can learn so much from his forward-thinking approach to the game.
Chess Behind Bars by Carl Portman
314 pages published by Quality Chess
Reviewed on 21 March 2019 (Review #14)
The game of chess can help motivate and intrigue anyone so why not play it in prison? Carl Portman decided to encourage chess amongst inmates with generally positive results and his experiences are used here to act a guide to other people. The seemingly obligatory forward by a celebrity chess master is performed by Nigel Short but the big difference here is that he has an interest in the project. He recounts how he became a friend via letters of a chess fan who was convicted of murder and even visited him in Wormwood Scrubs.
The journey for Carl starts with his first visit to a prison with its naturally intimidating atmosphere and the basic need to plan the lesson so no one gets bored. He starts with a simultaneous display and the photo from the event is a classic because of course all the opponents have their faces pixelated to avoid recognition.
Portman is persuasive on the effect of chess on those incarcerated as the tabloid view of plush cells, TVs and telephones is far from the truth.
The formation of a chess club can give them a positive experience and allow time to socialise. An interview with award winning author and ex-con John Healy sets the tone that chess can lead to redemption by giving the mind something to concentrate on when the immediate future is rather bleak. This is backed up by a chapter on ‘Testimony from Inmates’ which features lots of grateful letters. There is also chat about chess in women’s prison and this is supported by an analysis of top players and role models. There are cartoons sprinkled around which sensibly lightens the tone. After eighty absorbing pages there should be a whole host of potential volunteers ready to help rehabilitate inmates but the assumption is that not all readers will be chess players.
The rest of the book is basically a manual on how to play the game with the usual tips on writing the moves down, classic examples and puzzles. The idea being that if you have been convinced by the proposal to spread the word you might soon be a chess teacher.
An excellent, thought provoking guide on the value of chess in prisons.
Game Changer by Mattew Sadler and Natasha Regan
416 pages published by New in Chess
Reviewed on 21 March 2019 (Review #13)
A celebration of the chess computer AlphaZero with exclusive games and insight as to why we think differently about chess. Just in case you missed the worldwide headlines, a computer devised by a company called DeepMind, learned how to play chess in a few hours and reached a level that easily beat the top chess programme Stockfish.
The theme on television and the internet was the same that if Artificial Intelligence could master chess so quickly then what else could it achieve? This is why the publicity was massive and Demis Hassabis the co-founder of the company notes in the Introduction “…use this technology to help find solutions to some of society’s biggest challenge and unanswered questions”. If you are in any doubt as to where the company aims to make money with this achievement then Kasaprov is quoted on the back cover ‘Hidebound disciplines like education and medicine will also be shaken’. Indeed, it has had the desired effect because The British government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has enlisted Demis to advise its “new Government Office for Artificial Intelligence”.
I say good luck to him because to have a former player in such an important position must be positive. However, chess people are cynical and many pointed out that the wins against Stockfish were not independently monitored and could just be free advertising. After all, any medical claim is subject to verification from an official organisation and then published in an academic journal so others can consider the results. I think one of the reasons why such distrust exists is that people rushed to look up Hassabis games but could find none. Now, I remember him being a very talented youngster, good at table football and then he was suddenly gone from the chess scene. However, he did slightly change his surname for personal reasons, which is why it does not instantly pop up on Chessbase.
The motivation for taking Game Changer seriously is because the English authors are good at pointing out how the computer approaches certain positions in a different way. This becomes abundantly clear when the World Champion was quoted recently “I was thinking at several points during the game (in Round 11 of the 2019 Tata Steel Chess Tournament): how would AlphaZero have approached this?”. It would be boring to list all the computer games so the games are divided into chapters to demonstrate a certain theme such as “Attacking the King and Piece mobility: outposts”. A human element is added by including a famous game by a top player complete with a photo and then showing how AlphaZero plays in a similar style.
An extensive interview with Demis takes up Chapter 3 to remind everyone what a talented and driven businessman he has become since buying his first computer with winnings from an under ten tournament.
Of course, the best bits are the games. Naturally, many are interesting but what makes them special are the annotations that explain what is going on and how the style of play is that little bit different.
Game Changer provides an insight to a new era of chess.
Closing Gambit DVD by Alan Byron
1 hour 25 minutes. Works for all regions.
Reviewed on 22 February 2019 (Review #12)
A documentary that looks back at the classic Karpov-Korchnoi World Championship match help in the Philippines during 1978. The English writer and director Alan Bryon is well placed to understand what was going on as he used to be a leading teenager player and still competes at a high level such as the Gibraltar Masters tournament. As the story unveils those unfamiliar with what happened will be gripped by manoeuvres on and off the board, as the shining child of the Soviet Union , Karpov defended his title. The big difference was that Kortchnoi had fled the Soviet Union a few years ago before and was considered a traitor by the Russian authorities, so this was a big deal. In that era, Kortchnoi’s name was not mentioned in the media while if he competed in tournaments no Soviet player would take part.
A series of famous talking heads discuss the match and spliced together is original footage from the contest. This format is fairly standard and anyone who has watched the award winning documentary ‘Bobby Fischer Against the World’ will be content that the balance works well. The key to its success here is that they have managed to persuade Karpov to comment on what was going on. He makes some good points but hindsight is a wonderful thing, although his reasons to refuse to shake hands with Viktor just before game 8 sounds fine but you can’t help feeling that over time he might of crafted his reply rather than the obvious one that it was a ploy to put him off. Kortchnoi was deceased at the time of filming so he appears from old footage but a couple of his seconds/chess coaches are on hand to provide insight and they are Englishmen Raymond Keene and Michael Stean.
The latter is particularly entertaining and is rather self-deprecating such as when contemplating Karpov’s twenty strong entourage including former World Champion Tal, he says in comparison “We were a bunch of amateurs”. Kasparov builds up the Soviet versus the traitor line and along with other Russian players make the point that the government took this very seriously and every effort was made to crush Kortchnoi psychologically. It might sound absurd now but Anand is one that thinks it could make a huge difference in such a high stakes match. This is when a new generation will find out that Dr. Zukhar, a professor of psychology was employed by the Soviets to stare at Korchnoi from the front row, Korhchnoi’s chair was examined for radio waves, they argued what flag Viktor could use as he was Stateless and the list goes on.
Karpov also came under some pressure as Kortchnoi’s delegation questioned why he was eating a blueberry yogurt during the game as it might be an indication of a certain move or something. This made newspaper headlines back in the day and was ridiculed. However, Stean in the documentary reveals that in reality they thought some kind of stimulant might be in the food to boost energy. A Russian sportsman doped to perform at a higher level, surely that would never happen. The match reaches a climax with the scores locked at 5-5 and whoever wins next takes the title. Tal apparently said that if Korthnoi succeeds he would be a marked man and the assumption that he might be assassinated. This was not taken too seriously but although he lived in Switzerland and not Salisbury the idea of killing someone who sought political asylum from Russia is not so far fetched.
The narrator is Tara McGowran an actress who has shared film credits with a host of stars such as Anthony Hopkins and Hugh Grant and more recently performed as a deadly witch in the ‘12 Deaths of Christmas’. Once again, chess perfectionists should have no fear as her pronunciations of chess places and people are perfect, which is hardly surprising since she has been married to Michael Adams for over a decade.
The story is absorbing and frankly incredible at times and will appeal to even casual viewers who are not well versed in the game. For instance, I was recently on an Emirates flight and this DVD was in the documentary section next to a host of famous names.
A tremendous opportunity to look back at one of the world’s greatest sporting clashes.
Practical Chess Endings by Paul Keres
352 pages published by Batsford
Reviewed on 3 December 2018 (Review #11)
A modern classic is back in print with algebraic notation for another generation to enjoy.
The idea of the book is to cover every opening you might need to know at tournament level and it has numerous recommendations from masters. This particular version boasts of 500 extra diagrams, which does make it easy to read on the commute to work. The only thing of concern is that it has not been computer checked since the 1970s to make sure all the variations stand up to the test of time. However, it enjoys a good reputation so I don’t think are major problems although some continuations might have quicker solutions if you have access to modern software.
A good way to improve your ending.
The Chess Toolbox by Thomas Willemze
400 pages published by New In Chess
A middlegame guide for the club player who wants to be better. This is basically the theme of the book and there is lots to enjoy. The Dutch author seeks to instruct while entertaining and just about the manages to do the task. There are obvious themes such as piece coordination, concepts like structure and initiative, which are illustrated by interesting games or start from a diagram so we can see exactly what is going on.
There is no reliance on the latest elite game because he selects lesser known examples which make the point equally well and it makes a change not to see the obvious names every time.
If you manage to get out of the opening but then struggle to find a middlegame plan then there are plenty of pointers on how to cope.
If you are keen to improve this is the right place to start.
Fabiano Caruana: His Amazing Story and His Most Instructive Games by Alexander Kalinin
208 pages published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 15 October 2018 (Review #9)
The American star follows in the path of other chess elites who make front page news by having a best games collection published. Now if you want to wait for the player himself to make the effort, you might have to wait for them to retire from chess (Kasparov) or as Ivanchuk once said in a press conference that he will write it when he wants to reveal all his secrets. That was in 2005 and we are still waiting. Therefore, it is standard practice that someone else will write up the best games books and make it more authentic by using Caruana’s own notes from magazine articles. After a very brief background review of his life, an extract from an interview from 2012 is given.
Although, his life story is fascinating and has been explored in numerous interviews it is largely ignored by the author who seems to feel more comfortable concentrating on the chess. In general, I think Kalinin has done an excellent job in choosing entertaining games and his insights are like a masterclass. The first example is from 2002 and I assume the opening is all well known because no notes are given to explain what is going on. I reckon the average club player needs to know more about such things but it is a theme in the book.
The good stuff is reserved for the exciting middlegames or endgame technique and the notes are of the highest quality.
There are plenty of photos including the various front covers of New in Chess magazines. A photo by Lennart Ootes from Stavenger 2018 is a sharp reminder to the reader that book has been updated to includes games from this year. It was originally published in Russian and has been translated by England’s Steve Giddens.
Still, if you want to know more about the American star then this is an excellent start. The games are expertly selected and the positive notes will help everyone to play a little bit like Fabiano.
The Full English Opening: Mastering the fundamentals by Carsten Hansen
464 paged published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 15 October 2018 (Review #8)
Everything you wanted to know about the English but were afraid to ask. The advertising for this heavy tome has been terrific with reports saying that it covers all you need to know about the English Opening in just one book. I did assume that it would look inside like Modern Chess Openings or Nunn’s Chess Openings with numerous lines of analysis but with few words in order to pack in every possible variation. The reality is a little different with the author aiming it an audience of club players who want to play the English but with enough detailed analysis that is can be a handy reference book.
The policy is to examine annotated games, with prose to suggest middlegame plans but with plenty of detailed analysis in the opening to give the player with the white pieces confidence to play it with style. By the way, I always struggle with the concept of adding a bibliography in an opening chess book because in my experience, authors tend to lie about what they read. Therefore, you can see dozens of titles that have apparently been used in the background of an opening but have never been actually read by the writer or a mention of a single title before the author replicates a dozen leading books on the subject. The Danish author Hansen seems to agree with me of the futility of this requirement because he mentions eight books and seven of them have his name on the cover!
The English Opening with the help of Carsten Hansen is a potential winner for all club players.
Endgame Virtuoso Magnus Carlsen by Tibor Karolyi
272 paged published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 15 October 2018 (Review #7)
Magnus is renowned for his ability to grind out endgame victories but is it all technique or just determination? After looking through ninety thought provoking endgames the conclusion is a bit of both, while fatigue by the defending players helps increase the element of luck as blunders occur when tiredness sets in. Tibor Karolyi looks at games starting from the endgame or just before a critical moment and tries to explain what is going on. He also stuffs enough endgame analysis into the notes to keep the connoisseur happy.
Anyone who has met Tibor knows he is passionate about the game and the success of a similarly titled book about Anatoly Karpov has already demonstrated his prowess to explain to a wider audience how star players conduct themselves in the endgame. There are occasions when he gets carried away but his long analysis is because he wants to prove the truth in certain positions.
There is a great deal to admire and like in Endgame Viruoso.
The Amazing Albin Counter-Gambit by Lawrence Trent
(PC-DVD) produced by Chessbase
Reviewed on 2 July 2018 (Review #6)
A new generation of players would rather consume their opening knowledge via their computer rather than read a book. This is the target audience for Englishman Lawrence Trent’s latest project in promoting the club favourite the Albin Counter Gambit (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e5) to a wider audience.
I have noticed over the years that the style of presenting on Chessbase DVDs varies considerably. Some are poorly researched or fail because the famous player is using his second or third language, while trying to find the right English words to get his message across but not quite making it sound right. There is a good reason why a couple of UK stars Andrew Martin and Nigel Davies have done so many DVDs because they are informative and sound encouraging.
I particularly like Andrew’s enthusiasm for any chess subject if he says the Scandinavian is a safe and easy opening to play then within minutes I am convinced. While Nigel tends to come across as rather more serious, like a university professor trying to explain a complex subject in an easy and thoughtful way. Lawrence is clearly relaxed when chatting in front of the camera thanks to his efforts commentating at major tournaments and especially on the Internet channel Chess24.com. His friendly demeanour makes him seem more a mate trying to give you a helping hand at chess club and it works well on screen.
Basically, after you have put the DVD in your computer there are five hours of video to explain the opening and a chessboard automatically pops (even if you do not have chessbase) which allows the viewer to see the moves and the presenter at the same time.
The modern way to mastering a chess opening.
How Ulf Beats Black: Ulf Andersson’s Bulletproof Strategic Repertoire for White by Cyrus Lakdawala
288 paged published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 20 April 2018 (Review #5)
There was a time in the 1980s when asked which grandmaster was the most boring player then Sweden’s Ulf Andersson would win the accolade every time. His dour, positional approach was ignored while a youthful Kasparov inspired tactical clashes.
Nowadays, Kasparov is famous for his Twitter outbursts while Andersson is revered by a new generation of players who like to play for a small advantage to avoid extensive computer analysis of their opening choice.
It would be straight forward for the American author to look at lots of games by Andersson and just update the opening knowledge. Instead in chapter one, he gives eight games by the Swedish champion against the King’s Indian and five games by himself. I think it is good to see the author embracing his subject but just because you play cautiously does not always mean that you are playing exactly like Andersson. As usual, there are plenty of anecdotes and quirky comments in the notes. For instance “At our local San Diego G/45 Saturday Gambito tournaments, your writer struts about like a general surveying the battlefield.” While Ulf will either smile or contact his lawyer when reading “
A drug dealer (Andersson!) flourishes when those who buy his product continually increase their dependency.” I think these quips can be annoying to some but his large volume of work indicates that many people like the style. If so, then there is a lot of good stuff to enjoy by exploring the ideas and openings of the Swedish legend.
I would have like to see more correspondence games by the Swede because his slow but steady approach works well in that area as well. Even so, there is plenty to amuse and inspire club players.
There might be a little disappointment that the bibliography curiously mentions only two publications, after all who can forget the infamous title Ulf Anderssen’s Decsive Games by Vaidyanathan Ravikumar?
How Ulf Beats Black will allow you to safely negotiate the opening and reach a safe middlegame with a hint of an initiative.
The Art of the Tarrasch Defence by Alexy Bezgodov
318 pages published by New In Chess
Reviewed on February 2018 (Review #4)
The saga of having to defend against the queen’s pawn is a constant challenge, when even club players are socially scandalised if they do not know the first eleven moves of theory. The benefit of the Tarrasch Defence is that it is not the latest fashion and frankly most players are not exactly sure what the line is as Siegbert Tarrasch has lent his name to various variations.
Basically, after 1 d4 Black replies 1…d5, 2…e6 and then 3…c5 it is all perfectly straightforward, although nowadays the lines featuring the isolated …d5 pawn are a matter of taste. The former Russian champion points out that piece mobility is the thing to aim for and helpfully gives a number of model examples to help the reader. In the 1980s Kasparov was occasionally a fan so his games are understandably highlighted but also revealing are his victories with White against the opening which are not so encouraging, especially as the suggested improvements are brief.
The author is convincing in his arguments that the opening is perfectly acceptable and does a good job of explaining the various ways that transpositions can occur ranging from the Reti, English and even the Caro-Kann. The beauty of the Tarrasch is that the general plan is easy to master and with a bit of dedication a studious player can learn at least eleven moves of theory fairly quickly as Bezgodov offers a number of shortcuts to success.
A more than useful insight into an opening that is easy to learn but difficult to beat.
Dismantling the Sicilian by Jesus De La Villa & Max Illingworth
368 pages published by New In Chess
Reviewed on December 2017 (Review #3)
A repertoire book for White that tells us how to take on the Sicilian is a short cut route to victory. This is the idea that led to the enormous success of John Nunn’s book Beating the Sicilian in the 1980s which saw three different editions and helped an army of club players to success. It had the knack of suggesting neglected lines, finding improvements and make general comments on how to play the middlegame.
This recipe worked then but nowadays when everyone has a computer and an opinion on social media, authors tend to go for the soft option and choose the main lines. This policy adopted by Jesus De La Villa in the 2009 version of the book worked reasonably well but there is always a danger that the latest game played in Paris will cast doubt on a main line, just after move 26. The average player has neither the time, energy or the talent to remember huge swathes of theory but this theme is extended in the latest edition.
The Australian Max Illingworth has done a tremendous job of rewriting almost the entire book but does follow the main lines at all time. The more you read about his meticulous planning, the more you wonder why he did not write his own book rather than sharing the credit? The detail and latest games are first rate and Max’s solution to the problem of learning so many variations is to offer a number of key illustrative games. I also like the fact that he does take time out to look at the occasional weird move that is bound to be played at the local weekend tournament by opponents who don’t know all the right moves.
The Najdorf is the big beast in the Sicilian world and the suggestions of 6 h3 or 6 Be2 to confront it are the trendy solutions. This does mean having to absorb a lot of variations and keep up to date with the latest elite games. I remember the 6 h3 move from Fischer’s 60 Memorable Games but nowadays the old time American player Weaver Adams gets all the credit and the line is called the Adams Attack.
I think any serious player will improve their rating with this book.
The variations might be tough to remember but they really will be a great guide on how to confront the Sicilian. If you want to beat the Sicilian, this is the best place to start.
Gyula Breyer: The Chess Revolutionary by Jimmy Adams
888 pages published by New in Chess
Reviewed on September 2017 (Review #2)
I predict a trend for commuters who do not wish to chat to their fellow travellers and that is to whisper “Breyer”, which will result in an understanding nod leaving you to focus on over eight hundred fact filled pages. It is also handy at Christmas to avoid small talk with long lost relatives.
Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) was a Hungarian champion and elite player but his legacy has been largely overlooked.
England’s Jimmy Adams decided to set the record straight with this insightful biography using resources from Hungary that have been obtained or translated by Iván Bottlik and Peter Szabó. This explains why an English speaking audience are treated to over 200 interesting games that have many different commentators. These include some of the best players in the world, Lasker, Alekhine, Tarrasch, Rubinstein, Schlechter and Reti with sometimes two or more annotating the same game, which sometimes makes the commentaries almost a debate.
The narrative presents Beyer as a brilliant player who infuses the openings of his time with modern ways to handle the position that inspire legends such as Reti and in particular Alekhine who was a big fan. Breyer was also a connoisseur of problems and managed to present one with a solution that is over 100 moves.
An important addition is the attraction of over 70 photos to shine a light on lesser known masters and a few group pictures to add life to old tournaments.
Now I am not a chess historian but I can see that an immense amount of work has gone into producing the work. I did spot an article on blindfold chess which escaped the attention of the outstanding Blindfold Chess book by Eliot Hurst and Simon Knott, which must be a good sign. Breyer comes across in his writing as a colourful character with a quick wit. He might be famous for the Breyer Defence in the Ruy Lopez but it is argued his many opening contributions should be more widely admired especially in the Budapest Defence.
The obituaries of someone who died young are painful to read because the chess world missed out on the full potential of an amazing individual. Adam’s triumph is that he makes you care about Breyer.
This book will educate, entertain and absorb any chess player who cares about the past.
Chess for Hawks by Cyrus Lakdawala
288 pages published by New In Chess
Reviewed on August 2017 (Review #1)
The American author provokes strong reactions amongst his readers and like Marmite it seems you either love it or hate it. His brash, chatty approach is the sort of thing you will see on YouTube videos of banter blitz. For instance, introducing a classic Capablanca game he writes
“I remember surreptitiously going over this game during eighth grade Science class and then unpleasantly being busted by the teacher, who threatened to keep me after school with a detention.”
Now, this not exactly the prose you would associate with a well established writer like John Nunn but the modern player does seems to like these quirky anecdotes as Lakdawala, is a prolific author, although admittedly this is his first book for New In Chess.
The idea of this latest offering is that the majority of club players are like doves, cautious and have a positional sense at the board. In contrast, Hawks are the sort who love the games of swashbuckling players such as Kasparov and Tal, who enjoy attacking and taking risks. In his first chapter “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” he proceeds to improve the attacking style of all players by using some classic games such as Morphy versus Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, where he points out how a player can create an initiative.
There are plenty of instructive games which will help the diligent reader. Lakawala includes plenty of his own games to illustrate various points which can be a good idea as these games are relatively unknown. The majority of these games are local rapid play encounters but help him to reveal how to thwart Hawks and the right way to imitate them.
An Englishman does appear when Nick Pert takes on Nakamura from 2005. Our hero narrowly fails to win against the Red Bull guzzling American and Lakdawala comments on Pert’s blunder with the line “This move is like the pharmaceutical ad which ends with ‘Side effects may include..”.
This style of writing is an acquired taste but amongst the waffle are some interesting insights and sensible chess lessons. A book that will help you to move up to the next level.